By, CNN; 31 January 2024
In a room crowded with people in suits, the sponsorship deal with brewing giant AB InBev was met with beaming smiles and the clinking of beer bottles by many of those in attendance. At the same time, IOC President Thomas Bach gushed about how sports and beer belong together. “This partnership, from our perspective, is a perfect match,” Bach said during the announcement event, during which he talked about celebrating “the joy of sport and the joy of life.”
Amid all that talk of sport and life, the IOC and AB InBev were keen to underline that their sponsorship deal is being led by an alcohol-free beer, Corona Cero. The exception is in the US during the LA 2028 Games, when Michelob ULTRA will front the partnership.
But not everyone has welcomed news of the partnership – which covers the next three Olympics and Paralympics in Paris, Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo and Los Angeles – with such enthusiasm. Notably, campaign groups have pointed to the incongruity of an event like the Olympics – perhaps the world’s biggest sporting event – rubbing shoulders with a beer company.
“Alcohol and the Olympics is certainly an odd pairing, given the athletes competing at this top level often do not drink alcohol at all as they prepare to take part in the Games,” Andrew Misell, a director at Alcohol Change UK, said in a statement sent to CNN Sport.
The last Summer Olympics in Tokyo was watched by more than three billion people, according to the IOC, and sponsoring such an event has become something of a holy grail for major brands. AB InBev is the latest company to participate in The Olympic Partner (TOP) program – the highest level of Olympic sponsorship – alongside the likes of Coca-Cola, Visa and Deloitte. For beer companies, in particular, sports are a fruitful market. A 2018 report from marketing service Sportcal found that there were 281 active sports sponsorship deals with the world’s 30 top alcohol brands, worth an estimated total of $764.5 million. AB InBev said that it would not reveal the cost of its deal with the IOC.
Within the public health community, there have been efforts to restrict alcohol marketing, which is described as a “poorly regulated” sector in the World Health Organization’s global alcohol action plan for 2022-2030. WHO also runs an initiative to reduce alcohol harm around the world, including advocating for bans and tighter regulations on alcohol advertising, sponsorship and promotion. The harmful impact of excessive alcohol consumption is now well-established, from increasing health risks – including cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression – to physical and sexual violence to fatal traffic accidents.
In 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13% of adult men and 9% of women had an alcohol use disorder in the US. “We know that alcohol marketing works, and that consumers are very aware of brands and branding strategies from an early age,”
Amandine Garde, a professor of law at the University of Liverpool whose work has focused on protecting public health, told CNN Sport. “There is a lot of research on this point. Marketing influences consumer preferences and purchases, and therefore their health.”