Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

NFL's Beer Deal Doesn't Add Up


Earlier this week, Anheuser Busch agreed to make Bud Light the official beer sponsor of the NFL starting in 2011, taking over for current sponsor Coors Light.

SportsBusinessJournal put the bill at $1.2 billion, which averages out to $200 million per year -- double what its predecessor paid for the deal.

So the question is, is it worth it?

I can't really see how.

You see, the deal comes with too little exclusivity. Bud Light will have the rights to the NFL shield and its marks, including the Super Bowl.

But it doesn't have exclusive rights to team logos -- team deals are done separately. Not only that, team alcohol deals are also not exclusive. So the same team can have both Coors and Bud Light as sponsors.

This deal also doesn't include spirits rights nor does it include any television advertising exclusivity on NFL broadcasts, other than an extension to the exclusive Super Bowl rights it had already owned through 2012.

And it doesn't include the rights to use any players. Active players can't endorse alcohol brands.

People in the business will say that this makes sense because having the official NFL deal gets all the behind-the-scenes people excited, from the sales guy to the retailer, who ultimately controls what goes in front of the customer.

The problem is of course that Bud Light doesn't exactly have a distribution problem to begin with.

Maybe I'm not giving the folks at Anheuser Busch the benefit of the doubt here, but to me it just seems to be a lazy buy. Great for the NFL, but the truth is they're not really selling anything.

When I think about the biggest success in beer marketing in the last decade, it wasn't Coors Light's press conference commercials or Bud's Super Bowl ads, it was Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Seven years ago, they were seeing some of the biggest year over year sales percentage increases in the industry. They resurrected a brand thanks to grassroots marketing -- sponsoring a band for $250 or a local get together for $1,000.

And that gets us back to the teams. Beer drinkers, like any consumer, can be influenced by being marketed to in a way that is meaningful to them. No one roots for the league. No one roots for the Super Bowl. They root for teams and Anheuser Busch didn't buy team rights here.

Simply put, buying the NFL is an old age deal. It's so "inside the box." We live in an era where a brand is an awesome YouTube clip away from spiking sales, where official league status means less than ever before as deals and experiences perceived as genuine rule the social media landscape.

I don't know what Anheuser Busch has planned. All I know is they have a lot of work to do to make me believe the numbers work.

Questions?  Comments?