Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s Toronto soccer franchise, Toronto FC, has a new Bud.
Confirming industry speculation that arose in the wake of the club’s split with its inaugural sponsor Carlsberg late last year, Toronto FC and Labatt Breweries of Canada have announced a new partnership built around the Budweiser brand.
The sponsorship includes pouring rights at BMO Field for the Labatt portfolio of brands – including Budweiser, Bud Light, Alexander Keith’s, Stella Artois and Michelob Ultra – as well as an on-site presence for Budweiser that includes LED boards, concourse signage and a branded zone in the stadium’s north end called the Budweiser King Club. Budweiser will also hold giveaways for fans watching Toronto FC matches at selected bars throughout the GTA.
The length and financial terms of the multi-year deal were not disclosed, but Bob Stellick, president of Toronto-based sports marketing firm Stellick Marketing Communications, pegged the value of the deal at approximately $750,000 per season.
“I think a lot of beer gets poured at BMO Field,” he said.
At the time of its split with the club, Carlsberg called its six-year association with the club “very positive,” noting that it increased its year-over-year sales volume. The brand’s research also indicated that 30% of consumers in the Toronto market identified it as the brand associated with Toronto FC.
Andrew Oosterhuis, national brand manager for Budweiser, wouldn’t get into specific business objectives stemming from the partnership. “Ontario’s a key market for us in building preference with our target consumer,” he said. “We want to leverage our association with soccer and the passion [fans] have for the sport, and if we as a brand play a role in making soccer more fun, engaging and exciting, it will help us connect with our consumers.”
The Budweiser brand has a long association with soccer globally; it has sponsored every World Cup since 1986 and England’s F.A. Cup since 2012. “It’s an opportunity to take a global platform and activate in a key market,” said Oosterhuis.
Budweiser plans to kick off its new association with a Toronto FC-branded 473 ml aluminum bottle that will be sold in four packs at Toronto-area LCBO locations beginning Monday.
The beer brand plans to produce approximately 40,000 four-packs of the beer, although that could increase if consumer interest in the product is high. The company has previously produced branded bottles for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets, as well as the Toronto Blue Jays.
When Labatt introduced Blue Jays-branded Budweiser tall cans at the Rogers Centre – where it also holds exclusive pouring rights – sales of Budweiser increased 10% versus previous years at Toronto Blue Jay games, said Oosterhuis.
Budweiser will also host a pre-game celebration featuring the Budweiser Big Rig, live music and product giveaways at BMO Field before each Toronto FC home game.
As part of its ongoing commitment to promoting responsible use, Budweiser will also launch its designated driver program Good Sport at BMO Field, encouraging fans to volunteer to be designated drivers. The brand will host sign-ups for designated drivers at on-site kiosks, with fans pledging not to drink and drive receiving a free soft drink and entry in a draw for a Budweiser Good Sport prize pack.
The beer brand has also committed $50,000 per season to the MLSE Team Up Foundation, which launched in 2009 with a commitment to refurbish local athletic facilities and fund charities that support kids through sports and recreational programs.
This component represents an interesting aspect of the sponsorship, said Stellick. “[It will be] interesting to see if a beer company can get legitimate recognition for any kind of field refurbishment in a very politically correct world,” he said.
Beer is a key sponsorship plank for sports franchises, and the scope of Budweiser’s involvement with Toronto FC is particularly noteworthy said the club’s senior director of business operations, Paul Bierne.
“Their activation is really comprehensive: it’s in the bars, it’s in the community, it’s in the stadium. It’s talking directly to fans and it’s about growing both of our brands together,” Bierne said. “There are so many elements to this that [encompass] the whole spectrum of everything we do. It’s exciting to have a partner that gets that, that is energized by that and wants to participate in that.”
Toronto FC currently boasts approximately 35 sponsor partners, with key companies including BMO, Rogers, Kia and Budweiser. All of the club’s major deals have time remaining, and Bierne said there’s no indication that the club’s on-field struggles (5-21-8 last season) will diminish sponsor appetite for the club.
“This is a journey that they’re on, and I don’t think it diminishes their opportunity or their desire to stay with us at all,” he said.