SBJ/20080825/Beijing Olympics

‘It’s a very viable, very real … very formidable country’

For the first time in decades, Anheuser-Busch’s Tony Ponturo sits at the head of a global media and sports marketing division in flux. InBev recently completed an agreement to purchase the American beer company, which is expected to bring changes to Anheuser-Busch. Ponturo spoke to SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Tripp Mickle about those potential changes and the impact of the 2008 Olympics while he was on the ground in Beijing.

What will the legacy of the Beijing Olympic Games be?
Ponturo: It’s the awakening of a country that a lot of people didn’t know a lot about, and maybe even intimidated people a little bit. It’s going to sort of open the eyes of people who came and visited that it’s a very viable, very real … very formidable country with a sense of leadership and commerce and future that will probably platform off these Olympics.

What about the legacy of Beijing 2008 for the Olympic movement?
Ponturo: There’s been a debate for a while — somewhat whispered — are the Olympics a dying art or dying sports form? … I think what it’s proving is that not only in the U.S. but around the world, it’s still very viable.

Relative to your investment in China, did the BOCOG investment meet expectations?
Ponturo: We’re very pleased with it. … As you try and establish Budweiser as an important brand in China and a premium brand in China, what better platform to shout from than the Beijing Olympics. All 1.3 billion eyeballs are focused on this one event.

Has this deal opened up new distribution channels for Budweiser?
Ponturo: The answer is yes. We’ve added 65 markets in China this year. … As you have the Olympics marketing, (you) can build displays and work with retailers with tickets and hospitality, it gives our sales people a tool to build that distribution.

The InBev purchase, how might it affect what you’re doing in China?
Ponturo: The biggest change is the scale. We’ll be twice the size. In China, if you put together our ownership of Harbin and Budweiser and Tsingtao, we’re about 18 percent of the market, and InBev has another 11 percent, so you’re about a third of the market. That’s huge in the largest-by-volume beer market in the world.

Have you gotten any sense of what the InBev relationship means for Anheuser-Busch and sports marketing going forward?
Ponturo: Until we sit down, it’s hard to know, but I think we’re going to stay extremely aggressive in sports because that’s where the consumer is.

When you look at global sports properties out there, how might the more global nature of an A-B/InBev company impact what you’re doing?
Ponturo: We will have to start wearing a collective hat. Let’s take the Olympics in 2014 in Russia, for example. We have no business in Russia, so up until a month ago it didn’t mean a lot to us, but InBev has 30 percent share in Russia’s beer market. Now all of a sudden you go, “Hmm. Interesting proposition.” Does Formula One now make more sense? As we develop our existing business in India, is cricket something we look at? … That’s why I think the global potential is pretty intriguing.

For more of the interview with Tony Ponturo, go to www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/beijinggames.

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