This Bud's for everybody
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 07, 2006
By Cold, Hard Football Facts sud stud Lew Bryson
What's in your World Cup? If FIFA – the Fédération Internationale de Football Association – has its way (and it already has), it's going to be Budweiser. And that's got Germans pissed.
You probably aren't even going to the World Cup, which kicks off tomorrow, and it's the wrong kind of "football" to begin with. But you ought to be pissed too, and not because it's Budweiser. This is an issue that has more to do with business than sports or even beer, but it's all about your enjoyment of the game. Grab a beer of your choice ... and read on.
The World Cup's in Germany this year, and that's what set things off. Beer is like air for Germans, or like water – they drink it every day, from youth to old age. But it's more than that: beer is a matter of deep national pride for Germans. They feel that they invented the stuff, and they actually have a case, at least about lager beer.
Germans don't import much beer, because they don't see the need. They drink local beers, from their local breweries, to the point where the biggest breweries in the country are still only middling-sized by American standards. No one brewery has a big chunk of the market. What about Beck's you say? Well, the biggest name in German beer on this side of the Atlantic is essentially an export-only beer. Germans don't drink it.
So when Deutschlanders realized that FIFA had sold exclusive beer concession rights to Anheuser-Busch, they pretty much lost their minds. A-B didn't just get exclusive rights IN the stadiums, they've got exclusivity for a 500-meter radius AROUND the stadiums. Stadia. Whatever.
The Krauts are screaming, and A-B is bearing the brunt of it. I don't have a lot of sympathy for the Germans this time around, though. Face facts, guys: A-B has been the World Cup beer sponsor since 1986. They own this thing, and they did it the old-fashioned way: they bought it.
Did the Germans just wake up to this?
It's largely a World Cup media frenzy effect. I got hold of Bruce Hudson, A-B's senior director of international sports marketing, and asked him about the depth of the negative reaction. "We sponsored the FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany last summer," he said. "The people drank our beer, and we didn't hear any complaints. Who knows how many people are really upset this time?"
It's likely that the Germans got on the beer nationalism bandwagon because of one of two things. One, A-B just signed on with FIFA to be the beer sponsor through 2014 (which means they'll be in SAB/Miller's face when the Cup goes to SAB/Miller's home turf in 2010: "SAB" means "South African Breweries," or it did until they bought Miller and compacted the name). That may have brought this month's World Cup beer choice greater attention.
(Yes, this is a completely gratuitious photo of a soccer hottie from the World Famous Cheerleader Thread.)
Or two, maybe it was the compromise A-B reached with German brewer Bitburger. You may be familiar with the ongoing legal wrangles between A-B and the Czech brewer Budvar over who has the right to call their beer "Budweiser." (Or you may not; if not, never fear, we're going to do a face-planting half-gainer into a stainless steel vat full of Cold, Hard Beer Facts on the whole ugly mess sometime soon.)
It's complicated in Germany since not only is A-B enjoined from using "Budweiser" for their beer because of confusion with the Czech Budweiser Budvar beer, but they can't use "Bud" either, because it has been deemed too close to Bitburger's "Bit" nickname. They're forced to call it "Anheuser-Busch Bud." Catchy.
To avoid that lengthy moniker (and placate the Deutschers somewhat), A-B made a one-time deal with Bitburger. A-B can use "Bud" on World Cup ads, and in return, Bitburger gets to sell beer at 30 percent of the taps in the stadiums. Pretty good deal for Bitburger, really. Again, high-profile enough news to bring home to Germans the reality that over two-thirds of the beer taps at World Cup events are going to be Bud taps. I'm still guessing that Bitburger's gonna do one hell of a business.
But let's be honest, and finally get to the point of this wandering mess: the Krauts have it ass-backwards. Why are they pissed at A-B? Well, obviously it's a chance to show off their inherent anti-American madness, but it's not fair in this case.
They ought to be mad at FIFA! Who the hell sold the exclusivity contract to A-B in the first place? A-B didn't hold a .44 Magnum to the heads of FIFA's board and say "Give us exclusive rights to sell beer at the World Cup or we'll blow your heads clean off!" No, FIFA shopped you, you ignorant soccer-loving goons! FIFA took bids on your beer cup, and A-B figured, well, why not us?
I don't blame A-B at all. If FIFA's making the offer, hell yes, buy it! If it wasn't A-B, it would have been Heineken, or SAB/Miller, or Molson/Coors, or Carlsberg, just to name some of the biggies. It sure as hell wasn't going to be a German brewer, because the independent German brewers who are left simply don't have the money to play that game. In Germany, for all its love of beer, breweries are going out of business faster than Ricky Williams T-shirt salesmen in Miami.
You'd only have German beer at the World Cup if Belgo-Brazilian conglomerate InBev bought the rights; they own Spaten, Franziskaner, Beck's, Löwenbräu-München, Diebels, Dinkelacker, and some smaller ones. Oh, sorry, and Dutch-owned Heineken owns Hoepfner, Würzburger, and a huge chunk of Paulaner, so you mighta got that. Hmmm ... Danish Carlsberg owns some too, including the popular Holsten. Get the picture? The Germans make good beer, some of the best, but they let the rest of the world buy 'em out.
Like it or not, beer exclusivity is the way of the world. I've known that since 1987, when I was in Utica, New York, visiting a friend who was in grad school there. We were sitting in his shithole apartment, drinking the local beer (Saranac Amber, still a favorite) and watching the evening news, when the sports came on. The lead story? The local AHL franchise had sold exclusive beer rights in their arena to A-B. The local brewery, F.X. Matt (maybe better known as Utica Club), was shut out. We were baffled and enraged. The local beer? From the local damned brewery that employs local people? Shut out by the local sports arena? Were these people greedy or just stupid?
Folks, beer concession exclusivity deals SUCK. I don't care who's offering them; I don't care who buys them. If the Yankees (who I hate) sold an exclusivity contract to Brooklyn Brewing (who I love), it would SUCK! – even though I would love to find mass quantities of it when my wife's Yankees-worshiping family drags my fat ass from Philly to Yankee Stadium.
I don't care what you drink: light beer, stout, fruit beer, German doublebock. You should be able to have a hope of finding what you want to drink at a sports event. Fergodssake, you're already paying a ton of money as a frickin' COVER CHARGE to even get in their precious stadium (which was more than likely built with your taxes, sucker). And once you get in there, they're going to charge you 150 percent of the going rate for a beer. Shouldn't you at least be able to get PBR if you're a Pabst drinker, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale if that's what floats your groats? Wouldn't you think they'd have a local beer, just as a nod to their community?
Wise up, ya noob. In many stadiums, you'll get the beer of whoever your local team SOLD OUT to, the beer they've pre-selected for you so they can have a big payday selling your freedom of choice. And if that doesn't piss you off, what the hell kind of American are you?
I'll give the Krauts that: they may have sold their breweries, but they're smart enough to get mad when they realize that someone has sold their mouth-share, made them a captive audience of beer cattle.
(The funny thing is, it's not even about the beer sold at the events, according to A-B's Hudson. "The amount of beer we'll sell is sizeable," he said, "but it's negligible compared to the advertising value of the association with the World Cup." How about an exclusive on advertising, then, and we sell Augustiner Edelstoff in plain white cups?)
Whatever the reasoning, the Germans are simply mad at the wrong people. FIFA, the governing body of their beloved fussball, sold them out to the biggest bidder. Budweiser did what every other major brewery in the world tried to do: put their products in front of the world soccer community.
To be fair, some sports arenas do offer a decent choice of beers, including locally made brews. I've been to some of them, and it's great, and it works. I know some people who actually go to more games because of it. Granted, they're warped, beer-centric individuals, but who's judging who here ... you people reading this site are so damned normal? There's money to be made without screwing the fans. I know I'd be a lot happier about paying $7 for a beer if it was a beer I actually wanted to drink.
So piss on the Germans. They're just working out their Euro-hatred for America. If they REALLY wanted to protest to the people who are responsible for them not getting the beer they want at the World Cup, they'd be after FIFA. And we'd be after our favorite teams' owners. Beer freedom, damn it! We're paying enough that we should be getting a choice.
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