Media Money with Julia Boorstin

Anheuser-Busch's Next Sponsorship Play: Ping Pong

Ping Pong
Ping Pong

It's a classic pairing: sports and beer advertisers, but now Budweiser is taking an off-beat approach.

As Advertising Weekwraps up here in New York, one major marketer, Budweiser , is sponsoring what it hopes will be the next hot sport to succeed Poker - Ping Pong!

Bud Light is sponsoring the biggest-ever table tennis tournament, called "HardBat Classic," which is airing this Sunday at 5 pm on ESPN . Five hundred players shelled out a hundred dollars each to compete in the tournament that was held at the Venetian Las Vegas this summer, competing for a $100,000 first-place cash prize. That two day tournament will be edited into a fast-paced two hours. K-Swiss is also a sponsor, hoping to revive the 70s chic sneakers and sweatbands that fit with the Ping Pong aesthetic.

Some major television names are behind this push for a new sport to take off. There's nothing on TV bigger than "American Idol," and the production company behind the show, FremantleMedia, is a producer. Also attached is the Mark Gordon Company, which has produced ABC's "Gray's Anatomy,"  "Private Practice," "Criminal Minds," and other big TV series. Radical Media, which makes everything from TV commercials to music videos and documentaries, is known for its ability to match brands and content. The goal is for Sunday's show to get huge ratings, and for this to yield a spot for HardBat on a cable or broadcast network next year. The tournaments as well as the sponsorships and ad time would generate a multi-platform revenue stream. They're already planning another tournament for early next year.

You don't have to be an athlete to be great at Ping Pong, everyone knows how to play, and it elicits all sorts of pleasant childhood memories of afternoons spent in rec rooms. I see the potential for celebrity HardBat tournaments, just like the World Series of Poker. But do people care enough about Ping Pong?

Some crazy characters certainly turned out for the event:

But it doesn't have the same kind of built-in Vegas fan base as poker, for sure. A lot will hinge on how interesting the show is, whether they can build up suspense and competition. The types of rackets and rules are supposed to create longer rallies Whether or not this works I think it's notable that such high-profile producers are looking for sponsorship opportunities, trying to create the kind of multi-revenue stream opportunities that are so hard to come by.

Questions?  Comments?