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Volume 21 No. 2
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ATP adding Michelob Ultra to U.S. nets

Michelob’s branding of the nets at the ATP’s 10 U.S. tourneys is seen on a mock-up from the Miami event.
Photo illustration: ATP
Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Michelob Ultra will replace Corona as the ATP’s lead sponsor in the United States next year, putting the low-carb beer brand on the nets at the circuit’s 10 U.S. tournaments through 2015.

The deal marks Michelob’s first major move into the sport of tennis, expanding on its road racing and golf sponsorships.

Corona remains the ATP’s top sponsor outside of the U.S. at the tour’s other 51 events. The switch in brands became necessary after the Department of Justice earlier this year required Anheuser-Busch InBev, as part of its purchase of Grupo Modelo, to cede U.S. marketing rights for Corona. Grupo owned Corona.

“This was an opportunity for the ATP to show the flexibility … of our global sponsor program in 31 markets, 30 different countries,” said Laurent Delanney, the ATP’s CEO of Europe and commercial director.

He added it “is the first time we did it” in splitting the lead sponsor. The ATP first signed Corona as its top global sponsor in 2010, replacing Mercedes-Benz.

FedEx close to new ATP deal

     The ATP is close to renewing its sponsorship with FedEx Corp., said Laurent Delanny, CEO of ATP Europe and commercial director.
    FedEx first signed with the ATP in 2010, paying in the seven figures annually to align with the men’s tennis circuit.
    The FedEx deal is one notch below lead sponsor, which now will be shared between Corona and Michelob Ultra.
                                                                  — Daniel Kaplan

There is no change in the financial structure because Anheuser-Busch InBev inherited the Corona sponsorship when it acquired Grupo Modelo. It chose the switch to Michelob Ultra, though the ATP had a say in which of A-B’s brands the beer giant tapped, Delanney said.

“In the U.S., we are pleased to bring Michelob Ultra fans unique access to world-class tennis via the ATP World Tour, and we’re looking forward to unveiling our plans soon,” Lori Shambro, vice president, Michelob Ultra, said in a statement contained in a release due out today.

In addition to net signage, Michelob gets on-site activation and point-of-sale branding opportunities at the 10 U.S. events.

Michelob Ultra has a smaller presence in the U.S. than Corona, but could be a better fit for tennis. Michelob Ultra controlled 1.8 percent of the U.S. beer market in 2012, compared with 3.4 percent for Corona, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights, a trade publication.

That said, Michelob is seen as more upscale than Corona and, combined with Ultra’s focus on low-calorie beer, is a better match with the tennis crowd, said Bob Basche, founder and principal of Connect Sports and Entertainment.

“This is a big upgrade for them, quite frankly,” he said. “Michelob is an upscale beer in the A-B portfolio. It complements the other sponsorships that Ultra has. It is definitely not an NFL brand. It will work well with tennis.”

Michelob currently sponsors the PGA and LPGA tours, and has supported players including Grace Park and Natalie Gulbis. The ATP’s Delanney said he did not expect Michelob to sign tennis players to endorsements because the new ATP pact is event focused.

Michelob is also a sponsor of road races, including several marathons. Last month, the beer company announced a deal with U.S. Road Sports & Entertainment to title sponsor what is now called the Michelob Ultra 13.1 Marathon Series.

More than a decade ago, Michelob Ultra sponsored the Pilot Pen women’s tennis tournament in New Haven, Conn. That is believed to be Michelob Ultra’s only previous sponsorship of professional tennis.