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18th November 2022 - By: Danielle Andrews

Qatar loses its bottle ahead of World Cup opener

Budweiser alcohol ban

Major sports sponsorships are often a talking point in the Nifty office – especially ones involved with the 2022 Qatar World Cup, which has been surrounded by a plague of controversy. We were hardly surprised when this morning’s news broke of Qatar banning all alcohol sales in stadiums.

The move, made just two days before the tournament’s opening game, has allegedly came direct from Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the brother of Qatar’s ruler. It has huge implications for one of the tournament’s primary sponsors, Budweiser. The beer brand had signed a £65 million exclusive deal which included having beer stations at all World Cup stadiums.

It’s not the first headache of the Budweiser sponsorship either, having initially had difficulties in agreeing on sales points, only to be told to relocate beer stalls earlier this week. Not to mention breakdowns in negotiations of how to import supplies to the country, according to the New York Times.

Budweiser and FIFA will no doubt be at loggerheads with how to proceed, with contracts likely broken and a long-standing relationship on the rocks.

But it’s not just Budweiser who will be feeling the effects of the move. Other sponsors will be holding their breath over the longevity of existing partnerships with FIFA.

Sponsors don’t like controversy

The Qatar World Cup has been surrounded with controversy since it was announced as the destination for the 2022 tournament.

Rumours of corruption within FIFA grew when Qatar was voted as the host country in 2010, and since then more than half of the 22-person deciding committee has either been implicated or investigated for corruption and bad practices.

This is not to mention the thousands of migrant workers who have allegedly died in Qatar since the stadium construction began and male homosexuality being outlawed.

Several of the last World Cup sponsors have voiced their concerns in public statements over the tournament including Fly-Emirates, Coca-Cola, Sony, Adidas and Visa.

“The negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners,” said Adidas. Visa then followed up by saying: “Our expectation remains that all of our partners maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency.”

These are just the primary tournament sponsors too. The effect on advertising will be equally as dramatic, with many brands vowing to boycott any advertising deals related to the 2022 World Cup.

What should Budweiser do now?

It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom for Budweiser. Firstly, any PR is good PR, right?

But more importantly, the brand has now been given an exclusive opportunity to turn the negative into a positive. Pulling their sponsorship money out of the tournament and instead donating it towards a charity or cause related to Qatar’s controversies could be a great PR move for the brand. It would generate millions of eyeballs from the exposure of related press and contribute towards the brand’s CSR goals for the year.

Is the writing on the wall for FIFA sponsors?

For many of the sponsors, the sheer scale of exposure afforded by the FIFA World Cup is too great to turn down, with more than 10 billion eyeballs expected this year.

Yet as the tournament nears, pressure has increased, and brands are beginning to water down their promotions.

Denmark’s kit provider Hummel removed its logos from the Denmark team kit, while ING, the Dutch front-of-shirt sponsor, has announced it will now boycott the tournament and will not release any World Cup marketing campaigns.

Here at Nifty, we often lead on sponsorship campaigns for clients and take real pride in doing our due diligence. A sponsorship can’t simply be done for the sake of it, it needs to fit and align with the brand itself. Qatar was never going to welcome the promotion of alcohol in its country, so it’s hard to see how this couldn’t have been avoided, and we can’t help but think that Budweiser should have maybe waited for the 2026 world cup, as after all, USA is a co-host!

If you’re looking for sponsorship support or simply some advice, please get in touch we’d be happy to help.