In a surprise reversal, Qatar announced a ban of alcoholic beer at the eight stadiums hosting the World Cup. That leaves fans with just one “beer” choice — albeit one that isn’t boozy.
Soccer fans will still be able to purchase Bud Zero, an alcohol-free lager that Anheuser-Busch says tastes similar to its best-selling alcoholic beverage.
One serving of Bud Zero has 0 grams of sugar and 50 calories. The beer, which is Bud’s first ever zero alcohol beer, launched in the United States two years ago, targeting a growing trend of people choosing non-alcoholic beers.
Non-alcoholic alternatives to booze have been around for a while, but the sector has been booming lately. The non-alcoholic trend started to pick up a year or two before the pandemic and has 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 to be very conservative, and tightly regulates alcohol sales and usage. In September, officials said ticketed fans would be able to buy alcoholic beer three hours before kickoff and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
“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 perimeter,” said FIFA, soccer’s governing body, in a statement Friday.
FIFA noted that the decision will have “no impact” on sales of Bud Zero.
Budweiser tweeted, “Well, this is awkward,” though the social media post was quickly deleted.
“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 Anheuser-Busch InBev spokesperson said in a statement. “Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
It is indeed slightly awkward for AB InBev, which is a major sponsor of the World Cup, and was planning to selling regular Bud. Just a few days ago, reports showed World Cup workers moving beer tents into less visible areas of stadiums.
AB InBev paid $75 million for the sponsorship, according to multiple reports. So, the decision throws a bit of a wrench into their marketing plans since the decision dramatically reduces its presence for thousands of fans at the World Cup. However, arguably the bigger part — its TV advertisements with football royalty Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. — won’t be affected.
“Qatar’s decision to ban all alcohol around the grounds for the upcoming FIFA World Cup just days before it begins presents an illusion that FIFA is not in control of its own tournament and risks alienating Budweiser—a key sponsor and long-term partner of the governing body,” said Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at GlobalData, in an email.
The decision could have ramifications for the future, Wiacek said, noting that Budweiser’s partnership with the World Cup expires after this year’s event.
“However, Budweiser will be cautious to burn its bridges with the governing body, as the 2026 US tournament will be highly prized. Going elsewhere would open up opportunity for other alcohol brands in its wake,” he said.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicks off Sunday and lasts until December 18.