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The Margin: For Budweiser, Qatar World Cup has been a tale of tough logistics and quick thinking


As the controversial Qatar World Cup enters its final stages, the tournament’s beer sponsor Budweiser is preparing to make good on its promise to give a large quantity of beer to the winning nation.

Budweiser, which is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev
has had an eventful few weeks in Qatar. In an abrupt reversal just two days before the soccer showpiece kicked off last month, Qatar World Cup organizers banned beer sales in the tournament’s eight stadiums.

The Muslim nation, which is the first country in the Arab world to host the World Cup, had previously said beer sales within stadiums would be permitted. The reversal of that decision appeared to take Budweiser by surprise, with the company reportedly tweeting “Well, this is awkward …” before deleting the post.

In what can be described as an example of extremely agile marketing, Budweiser quickly shrugged off the beer ban and promised a huge victory party for the country that wins the soccer showpiece.

The company has been promoting the campaign using #BringHomeTheBud on social media, which has been widely interpreted as a reference to the surplus beer from Qatar.

See: Qatar World Cup controversy means sponsors are walking a tightrope

But just getting the beer to Qatar was a massive logistical project. In a pretournament interview with Bloomberg, Peter Kraemer, chief supply officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev, explained that, given the lack of breweries in the region, the company had to ship its beer to Qatar by ocean freight. The company then had to find refrigerated warehouse space to keep the beer cool in the Gulf nation’s hot temperatures. Trucks were set to be loaded indoors overnight before being sent the following day to locations where alcohol could be served.

“Beer is a perishable product, so it’s always best the day it’s packed,” Kraemer told Bloomberg.

In the interview, which took place before the stadium beer ban, Kraemer explained that contingency plans were in place to fill bottles and cans at a brewery in the U.K. and ship them to Qatar by air if fans consumed more beer than anticipated.

Sponsorship marketing expert Ricardo Fort, founder of Sport by Fort Consulting and the former head of global sponsorships at Visa Inc.

and Coca-Cola Co.
told MarketWatch that Qatar’s small size will have posed the biggest challenges. “The biggest problem for an event in a country of this size is that the country lacks a lot of other things that are important for selling beverages,” he said, pointing to the availability of refrigeration, trucks and people with experience in areas such as bottling and storage.

Read: Budweiser shrugs off Qatar stadium beer ban, tweets new World Cup campaign

Bloomberg reports that Anheuser-Busch InBev was looking to train as many as 6,000 workers in Qatar to serve their beer properly in the company’s largest virtual training effort.

Fort said that, in situations like this, some of the operational costs are usually worked into the contract. Budweiser has been a World Cup partner since 1986 and reportedly paid $75 million for its latest sponsorship deal.

But what about the challenge of getting beer to the winning nation? The World Cup semifinalists are France, Croatia, Argentina and Morocco, which pulled off a shock victory against Portugal on Saturday to become the first African team to reach the tournament’s last four.

Related: In Qatar, is it legal to drink alcohol?

Last week, Budweiser told MarketWatch that the company is working on the logistics of its Bring Home The Bud campaign.

The cost of shipping vast quantities of surplus beer from Qatar to the winning nation would be significant, according to Fort. “I would be very surprised if AB InBev puts the beer on a truck and ship and sends it to the other side of the world,” he said. Instead, he thinks that the equivalent amount of beer will be provided to the winner by Budweiser’s operations in that country.

As for the beer left over in Qatar, Fort speculates that Budweiser could sell it at cost or even destroy it.

The sponsorship expert also thinks that Budweiser’s nimble World Cup marketing will have an impact long after the final ball has been kicked in Qatar. “The idea of creating an event after the World Cup to celebrate the winner, I think it’s brilliant,” he said, adding that Budweiser turned a problem into an opportunity to extend its World Cup promotion with consumers beyond the final.

Now read: British band the Farm blocks McDonald’s from using hit song in Qatar World Cup ad

“I can easily see them doing it in the future,” Fort said, adding that the concept could also be applied to other major sporting events. “‘The winning city in the Super Bowl gets all the beer’ — this idea has a lot of legs,” he said.

Fox Sports, which is owned by Fox Corp.
 the sister company of MarketWatch publisher Dow Jones’s parent company, News Corp
 holds English-language broadcast rights in the U.S. to the Qatar World Cup.

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