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    World Cup organizers reverse alcohol policy, throwing wrench in AB InBev’s plans

    • Qatar has banned beer sales at World Cup stadiums in a last-minute pivot, per a statement from soccer governing body FIFA
    • Anheuser-Busch InBev, a major sponsor of the event, can continue selling its Budweiser Zero non-alcoholic beer. But core offering Budweiser is impacted, as are planned marketing activations for the global soccer tournament, the company confirmed to Marketing Dive.
    • The decision from the host country arrives just two days before kick-off and has already drawn pushback on social media, creating a potentially sour atmosphere for an occasion where brands are trying to stoke excitement. 

    Qatar and FIFA’s U-turn throws cold water on the marketing opportunity for AB InBev just days before the World Cup commences. The Budweiser owner reportedly pays $75 million for World Cup sponsorship and sales rights and has a relationship with FIFA stretching back to the mid-80s. 

    “As partners of FIFA for over three decades, we look forward to our activations of FIFA World Cup campaigns around the world to celebrate football with our consumers,” an AB InBev spokesperson said in a statement to Marketing Dive. “Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”

    This year’s gathering was always going to be a tricky one for the beer category given the Muslim host country’s tight restrictions on alcohol, though the region doesn’t outright ban the substance. In September, organizers put in place a policy that would allow alcohol sales at select fan zones and stations across the tournament’s eight stadiums. But the leniency toward booze appeared to slip in recent days. 

    Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Budweiser had been ordered to move its stadium outlets to less prominent locations. Now, stadium perimeters are totally off-limits. The official Budweiser Twitter account reacted to the news with a tweet stating, “Well, this is awkward,” according to media reports. The post was quickly deleted.

    “Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters,” FIFA said in a statement. “The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”

    FIFA’s pick of Qatar for the World Cup has drawn sharp criticism since it was announced in 2010 for various reasons, including the country’s documented human rights abuses, accusations of bribery and criminalization of homosexuality. 

    Budweiser has enacted an expansive marketing blitz to drum up enthusiasm for the event. World Cup efforts this year have included a QR code scavenger hunt, special beer packaging and commercials centered around soccer icons Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr. and Raheem Sterling. Yesterday, Budweiser launched a wide-ranging influencer marketing initiative that brings together over 100 creators and artists. Some partners are being flown to Qatar to generate content for the brand on-site.  

    Sara Karlovitch contributed to this story.

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