QATAR (WTVO) — After the Muslim nation of Qatar banned alcohol sales at the World Cup at the last minute, Budweiser was left with a $75 million investment in beverages sitting on ice.
When Qatar made its announcement last week, it left stadium fans with only one option for beer: Bud Zero, Budweiser’s non-alcoholic beer.
So, with all of its beer sitting in a warehouse, Budweiser announced on Twitter that it plans to donate the entire supply to the winning team, saying that it “wants to bring this celebration from the FIFA World Cup stadiums to the winning country’s fans.”
The move was the latest sign of the tension of staging the event, which is not just a sports tournament but also a monthlong party, in the autocratic country where the sale of alcohol is heavily restricted. It’s also a significant blow to World Cup beer sponsor Budweiser and raised questions about how much control FIFA retains over its tournament.
When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, the country agreed to FIFA’s requirements of selling alcohol in stadiums — but the details were only released in September, just 11 weeks before the first kickoff, suggesting how fraught the negotiations may have been. Friday’s statement from FIFA said non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at the eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.
But the vast majority of ticket holders don’t have access to those areas; they will be able to drink alcoholic beer in the evenings in what is known as the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated party area that also offers live music and activities. Outside of the tournament-run areas, Qatar puts strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, though its sale has been permitted in hotel bars for years.
“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 … stadium perimeters,” FIFA said in a statement.
Ab InBev, the parent company of Budweiser, acknowledged in a statement that some of its plans “cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”
The company pays tens of millions of dollars at each World Cup for exclusive rights to sell beer and has already shipped the majority of its stock from Britain to Qatar in expectation of selling its product to millions of fans. While the actual sales at the tournament might not be a significant percentage of the massive company’s revenues, the World Cup nonetheless represents a major branding opportunity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.