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Olympics brings on its first beer brand as a global sponsor — Budweiser’s AB InBev

By COURTNEY BONNELL and GRAHAM DUNBAR, COURTNEY BONNELL and GRAHAM DUNBAR, Associated Press
Published: January 12, 2024, 8:35am

LONDON (AP) — The International Olympic Committee has signed Anheuser-Busch InBev as the first beer brand in the 40-year history of its sponsorship program, which earns billions of dollars for the organization and international sports.

The deal was announced Friday by the IOC and AB InBev — the Belgium-based brewing giant whose brands include Budweiser, Corona, Michelob and Modelo — for the next three Summer and Winter Games. The Paris Olympics open on July 26, and the deal also includes the 2026 Winter Games in northern Italy, then — the likely prize asset — the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

Corona Cero, the zero-alcohol version of the Corona brand that is ranked second most valuable worldwide in the brewing industry, will be “global beer sponsor of the Olympic Games,” the heads of the IOC and AB InBev said.

The value of the deal was not disclosed, though the IOC has said some of its sponsors pay more than $300 million to be in the TOP (The Olympic Partner) program for a four-year commercial cycle.

“ABInBev and our brands, they support sports globally and they celebrate the opportunities that people have to get together, because we all know that beer and sports go very well with the fans,” AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris told The Associated Press in an interview.

The IOC launched the TOP program in 1985, a year after its ailing commercial prospects were rebooted by the Los Angeles Games and has typically aligned with technology and logistics companies that can help Games organizers in host cities. Deloitte, Intel and Toyota are on the current slate.

The Olympic body has never signed a beer or alcohol brand for its global event, which is widely viewed as the pinnacle of athletic achievement, with an increasing number of young teenage medalists in new sports like skateboarding. Beer deals, however, are routine for local organizers. Chinese officials, for instance, signed Budweiser as the international beer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Longtime partnerships with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s prompted the IOC, its then-president Jacques Rogge acknowledged in 2012, to seek assurances that the companies would do more to help tackle obesity with low-sugar and low-fat options. Coca-Cola is still an Olympic sponsor, but the McDonald’s deal ended three years early, in 2017.

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The IOC’s own stated marketing mission is to “not accept commercial associations with products that may conflict with or be considered inappropriate to the mission of the IOC or to the spirit of Olympism.”

Asked at a news conference why the sponsorship deal came together now, Rogge’s successor as IOC president, Thomas Bach, said it was a “perfect match” because of their shared values, including the joy of sports and bringing people together.

“We both are organizations who are thirsty for success, but we also know and have realized that with every success comes a social responsibility,” he said Friday.

Doukeris told the AP that he doesn’t “see any conflict” with Corona Cero as the brand of the Games globally and Michelob Ultra being the sponsor of the U.S. team and of the 2028 LA Olympics because “we continue to drive responsible consumption as a message.”

Sales of non-alcoholic beer, wine and spirits have been growing faster than sales of their alcoholic counterparts for several years now, buoyed by younger drinkers’ concerns about health and wellness and a general trend toward moderation.

Between 2018 and 2023, sales of non-alcoholic drinks in the top 10 markets that sell them grew 70% to more than $8.5 billion, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, a market research firm. Sales of alcoholic drinks in those markets grew 14% to $470 billion.

Alcohol companies see nonalcoholic drinks as a growth opportunity because they can keep customers within a brand, said Susie Goldspink, head of no- and low-alcohol insights at IWSR. If a drinker switches from Corona to nonalcoholic Corona Cero, for example, that’s still revenue for AB InBev.

IOC sponsors, now at a record 15, do not get to display their names or slogans at Olympics stadiums and venues. There will be no images in Paris of teenage skateboarders, breakdancers or gymnasts competing in front of Corona Cero marketing.

Sponsors do get exclusive worldwide rights to use Olympic branding like the iconic five rings symbol in its own advertising and campaign activations, such as running competitions on drinks cans and packaging.

The sponsorship program earned the IOC almost $2.3 billion in cash, services and value-in-kind for the previous commercial cycle that ended at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.

The IOC starts its beer industry partnership in France, which has had a ban on alcohol sales in sports stadiums for 33 years. Alcohol consumption in pricey corporate hospitality areas is allowed.

Some fans who are heading to Paris say the Games aren’t about drinking but seeing world-class athletes compete and finding common ground with other attendees from around the world who have divergent views on alcohol.

“The Olympics is very much an amalgamation of a whole bunch of different cultures and people and ideas. And if that lowest common denominator is no alcohol, well then you just have to live with that,” said KC Branch, 61, an attorney for wineries, distilleries and alcohol distributors from San Luis Obispo, California, who will be attending the Paris Games with clients.

Wendi Johnson, 46, a psychologist and professor at Texas Woman’s University who is traveling from Lakewood Village, north of Dallas, to the Paris Olympics with her husband and four young kids, said a lack of alcohol also would help avoid out-of-control behavior or profanity that “could make for a not-enjoyable experience for my family.”

Derick Gavidia, 35, who works for tech company Ibotta in Denver, said “it’s just nice to have the option” of buying alcohol at the Olympics “but it won’t change my experience at all.”

“I’m there for the events, for the atmosphere, for the memories,” he said, calling the upcoming Paris Games a bucket list experience.

France’s 1991 public health law was aimed at reducing alcohol and tobacco abuse and related illness. The law focused on advertising — it banned all cigarette ads and strictly limited alcohol ads — but also included the stadium measure.

The law is seen as having helped reduce smoking levels, but its impact on alcohol consumption is less clear.

The stadium measure included room for several exceptions, so it is often possible to drink at sporting venues in France. Sports clubs are allowed to request an exception for up to 10 events per year, for example. The rugby World Cup in France last year got an exemption and a tournament sponsor’s beer was sold.

Budweiser, meanwhile, also has been the official beer of the men’s World Cup since 1986 but had a bumpy ride with FIFA and host nation Qatar at the 2022 tournament. Qatar reneged on long-term promises to let beer with alcohol be sold to fans at stadiums just days before the opening game. AB InBev still renewed with FIFA for the 2026 World Cup being played in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Dunbar reported from Geneva. Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed.

Read more of AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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