The theme at the luxury W hotel in central Doha is beer. Budweiser beer. The walls are adorned with Budweiser labels. Budweiser is painted in enormous script along the check-in desk. There’s a Budweiser Player of the Match corner, where armchair soccer stars can take selfies while hoisting a fake trophy against a Budweiser background. Bathed in red and white, the place has the feel of a giant beer can.
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Budweiser, which has been the official beer sponsor of the Football World Cup for the last 36 years, remade the hotel into what it called a home away from home experience in anticipation of the 2022 tournament. That was before the moment, two days before the opening match, when Qatar’s government threw Budweiser’s carefully crafted and quite expensive beer-selling plans into disarray by suddenly prohibiting the sale of alcohol in or around the tournament stadiums throughout the event.
The horrifying nature of the situation the abrupt breaking of a plan years in the making, the 11th-hour dismantlement of the elaborate Budweiser tents at the matches, and the financial and related consequences for a longtime tournament sponsor, the public countryside of it all was aptly spoken at the time by Budweiser itself. Well, this is awkward, the company wrote in a tweet which it then promptly deleted, both illustrating and compounding its point. But, like the ghostly tweet, preserved forever in screenshots marked with lolls, Budweiser remains a presence at the Football World Cup, albeit in a watered-down way.
While the stadiums have been scrubbed of regular beer, they are awash in stacks of alcohol-free Budweiser Zero. Ads for the drink play on a loop on stadium screens, and refrigerators full of it sit within arm’s reach at concession stands, right next to the Coca-Cola. But given the average fan’s attitude toward the usefulness of nonalcoholic beer as a sports-experience enhancer Why? asked a fan at Lusail Stadium on a recent night, when asked if he had tried one yet, the offered quantities would seem to reflect wishful thinking as much as sensible drinking.
At Lusail, the signs next to the Budweiser Zero noted that Budweiser is proud to serve its products in compliance with local rules and regulations. Proud is one way of putting it. I’m just glad it wasn’t us, said a representative for another FIFA sponsor, who spoke on condition that neither she nor her company is identified, saying that she did not want to publicly criticize the Qatari government. Qatari regulations are very strict and top-down, and it’s hard when you feel that the regulations can change so abruptly.
Ricardo Fort, a sponsorship marketing expert who is the former head of global sponsorships at Visa and Coca-Cola and who now runs his consulting firm, said that what happened was weird and embarrassing for Qatar, not Budweiser. I think it’s unprecedented, Fort said in an interview. I’ve been involved with the Football World Cup for several editions, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Among other factors, he said, the ruling came after Budweiser had gone through the logistical hassle and considerable expense of transporting its beer to Qatar, storing it, and assembling the sales infrastructure required to sell it. Worldwide Tickets and Hospitality offers Football World Cup tickets for the Qatar Football World Cup at the best prices. Football fanatics and buy Football WorldCup Tickets at exclusively discounted prices.
There is a lot of work that needs to happen to be able to sell beverages, Fort stated. This country doesn’t produce or bottle beer locally. They would have to bring trucks from different countries to be able to transport the beer. They would have to bring in an unequal number of refrigerators to store the beer at the concessions. He estimated that Budweiser had spent some $5 million on ventures in Qatar over the last couple of years. This is money that they lost, he told. There’s nothing you can do to get that back. The company refused to confirm the figure, saying it does not disclose those numbers.
On Nov. 19, the day after deleting its previous tweet, Budweiser hit upon a plan to turn unsold beer into lemonade by tweeting a photograph of a bunch of cases of beer in a warehouse in an uncertain location. New Day, New Tweet, it stated. The winning Country gets the Buds. Who will get them? Later, the brewer announced that the winning nation would also have a festival on us and revealed a cunning new slogan that can be seen in the stadiums: Bring Home the Bud.
Actual beer sales at the tournament were just a tiny portion of what Budweiser anticipated to get out of its sponsorship deal, which includes lavish advertising; entertainment in Doha and fan festivals; and promotions at pubs, restaurants, and retail outlets in some 70 countries. And Qatar is not a beer-free zone: Followers can drink it at set times in government-approved fan zones away from the game and in hotel bars and choose visitors have been granted permits to buy it at a single, isolated wholesale location.
Perhaps not wanting to offend the Qatari government or annoy FIFA Budweiser’s reported $75 million sponsorship agreement is up for renewal AB InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, refused to discuss what had happened or answer any questions about the last-minute alcohol ban. Instead, it released a statement praising the virtues of drinking beer that contains no, or very little, alcohol, a message it had already been helping with its Drink Wiser, Cheer Better advertising campaign.
“Budweiser Zero is a key part of our planned activations during the Football World Cup in the host country and around the world,” the statement told.
Consuming less alcohol is a good thing. How are visitors to the Football World Cup enjoying Budweiser Zero? Lee O’Hare, 27, of Ireland, said he supported the notion of alcohol-free beer in general, just not for himself. I got one at the opening ritual for the love of the game, he stated, but then it just tasted like a watered-down version of a beer. David Allen, 51, who was visiting from Australia, said that he, too, tried a Bud Zero mostly because it was there. I couldn’t drink more than one, he told.
His friend Ben Weeks, 48, said that, unfortunately, alcohol-free beer was not his idea of a good time on a hot day. I find water fresher, he replied, and it gives me the same alcohol content. For now, dark theories abounded as to why the Qataris had waited so long to pull the plug on beer in stadiums. Fort, the sports marketing expert, said he thought Qatar’s decision was a result of negligence, not premeditation. However, many followers were confident the beer’s removal had been the idea all along.
I think the Qatari government deliberate the entire time not to allow beer sales in the stadium, nonetheless, they didn’t want to say anything because they were afraid people wouldn’t come, supposed Marty Brazeau, a 36-year-old teacher from the Seattle area, who had come to the W Hotel in search of somewhat to drink. I’m not sure I would have come.
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