In a surprise reversal, World Cup host Qatar has banned alcoholic beer in eight of its stadiums. That leaves fans with only one “beer” choice — albeit one that isn’t alcoholic.
Soccer fans will still be able to buy Bud Zero, an alcohol-free lager that Anheuser-Busch says tastes like its best-selling alcoholic beverage.
A serving of Bud Zero has 0 grams of sugar and 50 calories. The beer, which is Bud’s first zero alcohol beer, was launched in the US two years ago, targeting the growing trend of people opting for non-alcoholic beer.
Non-alcoholic alternatives to liquor have been around for some time, but the sector has been growing lately. The alcohol-free trend began to rise a year or two before the epidemic and continued to grow at a rapid clip. Demand for non-alcoholic alternatives has been largely driven by younger consumers.
Qatar is a Muslim country that is considered very conservative and strictly controls the sale and consumption of alcohol. In September, officials said ticketed fans would be able to buy alcoholic beer three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during matches.
“Following discussions between the host country authorities and FIFA, it has been decided to focus on the sale of alcoholic beverages at FIFA Fan Festivals, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing beer sales points from the perimeter of the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums in Qatar.” Football’s governing body FIFA said this in a statement on Friday.
FIFA noted that the decision “will have no impact” on the sale of Bad Zero.
Budweiser tweeted, “Okay, that’s awkward,” though the social media post was quickly deleted.
“As a FIFA partner for more than three decades, we look forward to the activation of the FIFA World Cup campaign around the world to celebrate football with our customers,” an Anheuser-Busch InBev spokesperson said in a statement. “Some planned stadium activations may not go ahead due to circumstances beyond our control.”
It’s a bit awkward indeed for AB InBev, the main sponsor of the World Cup and planning to sell regular Buds. Just a few days ago, reports showed World Cup workers moving beer tents to less visible areas of the stadium.
AB InBev paid $75 million for the sponsorship, according to multiple reports. So, the decision threw a bit of a wrench in their marketing plans as the decision dramatically reduced the attendance of thousands of fans at the World Cup. However, arguably the biggest segment — its TV commercials with soccer royalty Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. — will not be affected.
“Qatar’s decision to ban all alcohol around the grounds of the upcoming FIFA World Cup just days before it kicks off presents an illusion that FIFA is not in control of its own tournament and risks alienating Budweiser – a major sponsor and long-term partner of the organization. body,” Konrad Wysek, head of sports analytics at GlobalData, said in an email.
The decision could have implications for the future, Wysek said, adding that Budweiser’s partnership with the World Cup expires after this year’s event.
“However, Budweiser will be careful not to burn its bridges with the governing body, as the 2026 US tournament will be extremely valuable. Going elsewhere will open up opportunities for other alcohol brands,” he said.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 begins on Sunday and will continue until December 18.