AB InBev’s Olympics deal has rewritten the alcohol sponsorship playbook
Fuse’s Victoria Chew dissects how AB InBev’s Olympics sponsorship changes the game.
Olympic Worldwide Partners are highly coveted sponsorship deals – the very top tier. Only the world’s leading global brands would be considered – or can afford – this level of sports sponsorship. They are rarely available – and even more rarely re-defined – which is why the news that AB InBev has signed as the Olympics’ worldwide partner has garnered such attention.
First up, there are two things to note: the category name itself encompasses no alcohol for the first time and – possibly more pertinent – it leads with no alcohol, with Corona Cero named as the global beer sponsor of the Olympic Games.
This may be tactical because the first games where this sponsorship will kick in is Paris 2024 – and France is a ‘dark market.’ Alcohol advertising around sports is highly regulated in France through ‘Loi Evin,’ their French alcohol policy law. Among other things, this law restricts the association and advertising of alcohol brands directly with sporting events. This will, therefore impact AB InBev’s marketing strategy around the event in France itself.
While the Olympics is a clean event – there is no perimeter or brand advertising in the stadia – it will impact the ability of AB InBev to capitalize on its sponsorship in the host market. But with the company already navigating a dry Qatar World Cup, it will manage.
But leading with its no-alcohol Corona Cero brand will certainly reduce some of these challenges and limitations. And the Loi Evin law doesn’t prohibit straight product-led alcohol advertising, just when the brand or product is displayed or associated with the sporting event specifically.
Having worked recently with Asahi Super Dry on its Rugby World Cup 2023 sponsorship across France, there are smart ways to navigate this to ensure the sponsorship provides the required ROI. For Asahi, this involved a combination of clever use of Masterbrand typography and alibi branding on perimeter boards in France, use of their 0.0% product, as well as significant investment in point of sale within retailers and distributors for those watching and attending the events.
However, we must remember this is a worldwide deal, so while needing to flex their strategy in the host market for 2024, the truly global scale of the Olympics will provide AB InBev huge opportunities to leverage the Olympic IP and sponsorship rights across global markets to promote their brand and both alcohol and no-alcohol products. It also supports AB InBev’s ‘smart drinking’ strategy, which has seen it increasingly invest in no and low alcohol brands and launch Corona Cero across Europe in 2022. And, as we know, all good sports sponsorship complements and builds on the broader brand strategy.
From AB InBev’s point of view, ensuring the category is defined across both alcohol and non-alcoholic beers means competitors likely can’t enter the fray, and all its brand territory is protected within this deal. Otherwise, there would be a potential risk of another subcategory being created and a rival also gaining access to the sought-after Olympics fold, even if via an LOC (Local organising committee) deal in the host country, for example.
Opening sport sponsorship to no/low
This announcement marks a significant moment for the role of no and low-alcohol brands in sports sponsorship. The nature of deals on the scale of the Olympic partnerships is that they are not always very responsive, and rights holders can be cautious – but they are influential. This will make other no and low-alcohol players think about this space in a way that they may not have previously. In sports sponsorship, when one brand starts to get involved, others in the category invariably follow – and that can result in new revenue streams and investment for rightsholders.
The incongruity of alcohol-sponsoring sports also makes this an interesting adaption for brewing businesses wanting to associate with sports. As rights holders move to be more inclusive, it makes sense for the non-alcoholic brands in these businesses’ portfolios to start leading the way. The market for no/low products now is growing significantly, so it’s a great opportunity to launch these products using sports sponsorship as a vehicle.
We’ve already seen this with F1 where it has the added factor of driving being part of the messaging mix. Heineken moved to lead with its responsible consumption and promote the Heineken 0.0% product with their global F1 and Uefa Champions League sponsorships. Peroni Libera 0.0% has also used its sponsorship of Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One team to launch the premium 0.0% product in a number of markets.
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However, what could be most interesting, and perhaps we’re on the cusp of a significant commercial trend in sponsorship, is exclusive no/low brands entering into the industry in their own right given the significant growth of the category, as we’ve seen with the likes of Seedlip sponsoring Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and Formula E team, Mercedes-EQ.