Qatar’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol at stadiums just days before the FIFA World Cup 2022 sent shockwaves through the global marketing industry last week, as AB InBev had paid around $112 million for Budweiser to be the official beer sponsor of the 2022 event.
Partnering with the world’s biggest sporting event is a sought-after opportunity for advertisers seeking to capitalise on the billions of fans who watch it on TV and the roughly one million fans who are predicted to travel to Qatar to watch the matches live.
Those fans were set to be able to drink $21 beers in the venues at Qatar 2022.
But FIFA announced in a statement last Friday: “Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.
“The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™️.”
Following the announcement that no beer would be sold in FIFA stadiums, Budweiser’s Twitter account tweeted: “Well, this is awkward…”
The tweet was later deleted.
Dozens of beer tents had already been set up at stadiums ahead of the first game between Qatar and Ecuador.
While there was speculation that AB InBev would seek more than $70 million in compensation for the Budweiser ban, it seems to have chosen a different route and kept it’s eye on the prize of its lucrative deal for the 2026 World Cup, which will be held across the United States, Canada and Mexico and will have more nations competing in it.
It has come up with a genius marketing move: Budweiser has offered the team that wins the World Cup its huge stockpile of beer that is sitting in a Qatar warehouse.
The company’s non-alcoholic brand, Bud Zero, is still available in the stadiums.
Advertiser woes over FIFA
Controversy over Qatar’s human rights record has also been an issue for advertisers, with widespread criticism of the treatment of migrant workers and the country’s criminalisation of homosexuality.
“There is a real brand safety concern around it,” Liz Duff, head of commercial and operations at Total Media, an agency based in London, told CNN. “That’s why the ads are supporting the teams rather than the venue.”
And even that has been fraught. FIFA’s decision to ban players from wearing “OneLove” armbands aimed at promoting inclusion and opposing discrimination has resulted in German supermarket chain Rewe ending its partnership with the German football association, calling the ban “scandalous” and “absolutely unacceptable.”