Budweiser is promoting its alcohol-free lager at the upcoming soccer World Cup in Qatar, balancing its role as the official beer of the event with the strict regulations on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the predominantly Muslim host nation.
Executives from Anheuser-Busch InBev HER,
the brewer’s parent company, believe the restrictions on alcohol sales in the country provide it with an opportunity to encourage more people to try its alcohol-free Budweiser Zero, which will be on offer at stations around the tournament and inside soccer stadiums’ main bowls, where alcohol sales aren’t permitted.
“There will be millions of people watching the games, so it’s a sizable trial opportunity for sure,” said Marcel Marcondes, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s global chief marketing officer.
The company wants low-alcohol and no-alcohol beer products to make up at least 20% of its global beer volume by 2025. The current figure stands at 6.63%, according to a company report published in February.
Budweiser will provide its flagship alcoholic brand only at certain venues including at its “takeover” of the W Hotel in the capital of Doha, executives said. Alcohol isn’t illegal in Qatar but usually can only be purchased in a small set of tightly regulated places, such as from licensed hotels.
“We’re working with the local authorities to make sure that we will be absolutely compliant with all the specificities of the regulation,” he said.
Qatar will partly relax its alcohol restrictions during the tournament, which is set to take place in the tiny state between Nov. 20 and Dec. 18.
Spectators will be allowed to buy alcoholic Budweiser, for example, in designated stadium areas outside the main bowls before and after games.
And the beer will be available only after 6:30 pm at the FIFA Fan Festival, an official outdoor event in downtown Doha billed as “29 days of football, music, culture and lifestyle.”
A company spokeswoman said Budweiser has designed its World Cup brand activation to discourage harmful alcohol consumption, and will also run what Anheuser-Busch InBev calls its “Responsible Beverage Service,” which trains bar owners and staff to help reduce underage drinking, binge drinking and drunken driving.
It is illegal to be drunk in public in Qatar.
Local alcohol laws are only one nuance around the tournament.
FIFA and Qatar have for more than a decade weathered criticism over the 2022 World Cup, ranging from concerns over the protection of LGBT spectators to the mistreatment of migrant workers hired to build new structures for the event. Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014 was part of a cohort of World Cup sponsors that voiced concerns over allegations that bribery and corruption were behind Qatar’s winning tournament bid.
FIFA later commissioned a report into the matter and cleared Qatar of all wrongdoing.
Controversies surrounding the run-up are unlikely to affect sponsors’ ability to reach fans on the ground in Qatar, said Simon Dent, founder of London-based sports marketing agency Dark Horses and sports talent management agency Hero. FIFA announced last month that it has so far sold 2.45 million World Cup tickets out of a possible 3 million.
“But sponsors don’t primarily sponsor tournaments for fans in the stadium,” Mr. Dent said. “They are buying the warm fuzzy feeling that everyone feels around major tournaments, TV advertising slots at halftime or pre-kickoff, and the space on the LED [screens] around the stadium.”
Budweiser on Thursday kicked off its sponsorship of the tournament with a global advertising campaign called “The World is Yours to Take.” The campaign’s central ad sees soccer players Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr. and Raheem Sterling waiting in a soccer stadium tunnel before a match, cheered on from behind by a jubilant international crowd.
The brand said it plans to roll out localized ads and digital content in 70 countries as part of its World Cup marketing plans. It will also distribute more than 1 billion limited-edition bottles of Budweiser, each featuring a unique QR code linking to a competition to win free prizes including beer and World Cup tickets.
And Anheuser-Busch InBev will use its World Cup sponsorship to promote the introduction of its direct-to-consumer e-commerce website and app TaDa, starting with 10 markets in Latin America, Mr. Marcondes said.
He declined to disclose the cost of the sponsorship and campaign.
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