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How Anheuser-Busch used sport to dominate the US beer market

Tony Ponturo on making Budweiser your beer, and not just your dad's.

Anheuser-Busch is one of the sports sponsorship industry’s greatest success stories.

The US beer giant has been one of the biggest sponsors in sport for almost 40 years. Foregrounding its key brands Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch and Michelob, Anheuser-Busch spent an estimated $350 million on sports sponsorship rights deals in 2016 (enough to make it one of the single largest sports sponsors in the world that year, but still a fraction of its annual revenues of $45.5 billion).

Despite a recent tweak to its sports marketing model, whereby franchises are encouraged to sign up to an incentive-based payment model, there is no sign Anheuser-Busch’s commitment to sport abating.

And with good reason. Going deep and broad on sport has paid dividends. According to Tony Ponturo, the man who drove Anheuser-Busch’s sports marketing strategy from 1982 to 2008, the brewer’s market share rose from 24% to 50% across his tenure.

Ponturo is now EVP of Strategy and Consulting at Turnkey Intelligence. Asked to reflect on the Anheuser-Busch story, he points to two key drivers of success: an ability to shift to match changing demographic habits every four years, to ensure that Budweiser is “your beer, and not just your dad’s”, and “a balance of big, loud marketing with local grassroots marketing activity“.

Having shared the stage with senior marketing executives from Rakuten, Toyota and T-Mobile at The Leaders Sport Business Summit, New York on 21 May to discuss best-in-class methods for measuring the success of partnerships, Ponturo joined Leaders backstage to analyse a remarkable sports marketing career at Anheuser-Busch that included, at one point, sponsorship of 90% of all professional teams in the U.S., and 25 consecutive years of Super Bowl sponsorship.

 

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