A-B InBev Signs Deals To Use MLB, NBA Players In Beer Ads
A-B InBev has completed marketing deals with the MLBPA and NBPA which will allow the brewer to use team sport player names and imagery in advertising for the first time in perhaps 60 years. The unprecedented deals will permit ABI to combine players names and images with IP from its longstanding MLB and NBA sponsorship deals in all forms of advertising. ABI U.S. CMO Marcel Marcondes said that while uniformed NBA and MLB players would now be seen in ads featuring game footage and athletes speaking directly to the camera, they will not be seen holding or consuming beer. “One of our key initiatives is to make sure our brands are more relevant,” Marcondes said. “We needed to evolve the way we work together with leagues.” The NBA program tips off for the new season, with a point of sale campaign featuring a different player in 16 markets. It will continue with a Budweiser responsible drinking TV campaign called “Drink Wiser,” Marcondes said. The brewer has been negotiating the new rights for some time. While the deals were being negotiated, ABI ran some early tests, including a Mother’s Day TV ad for Bud with active NBA players and game footage and some point of sale ads using active players around this year’s MLB All-Star Game. Marcondes said ABI is pursuing deals with other players associations. The brewer holds league rights with the NFL. “Being able to show players in uniform allows us to do very specific local campaigns no one else can do -- and local relevance is crucial,” he said.
VOLUNTARILY BANNED FOR DECADES: Active American pro athletes in team sports were last used in beer advertising (mostly print) in the ‘50s. Since then, brewers through the Beer Institute’s Advertising & Marketing Code, along with leagues, have voluntarily banned advertising using active players. ABI has used athletes from individual sports, including golfers Annika Sorenstam and Sergio Garcia and former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in responsible drinking campaigns. “Any athlete marketing has to be done skillfully to ensure the athlete isn't bigger than the brand,” said former A-B sports marketing and media chief Tony Ponturo. “As long that’s done carefully, there’s a real opportunity to enhance credibility and reach that next generation of beer consumers.” Things began to change when spirits ads and sponsorships with the big four stick-and-ball leagues became permissible following the ’08-09 recession. With the advent of legalized widespread sports gambling in the U.S., it will be increasingly difficult for sports properties to say any categories are off limits. “Sports betting going legit definitely helps us from a marketing respective,” said one beer marketer who requested anonymity.
QUESTIONS REMAIN: Some intriguing questions will arise now that active MLB and NBA players can be used in beer ads. NFL league rights are held by ABI, so is the NFLPA next? Beer is already one of the most lucrative sports sponsorship categories -- how much would an individual athlete deal with a megastar like LeBron James or Stephen Curry be worth to a big brewer? How would sponsors like Nike or State Farm feel about their biggest endorsers signing deals to pitch beer? Beer is largely regional, so could marquee players cash in with deals in Europe, Asia and North America? Will ABI use its player rights to assault markets where MillerCoors has a team exclusive, like its hometown of Milwaukee? If beer endorsements are permissible, will spirits marketers be next?