Interbrew ponders strategy on remaining Labatt non-brewing assets

Now that Interbrew has sold Labatt Communications to a Can-Am consortium led by former Labatt Communications Chairman and ceo, Gordon Craig, the brewer can turn its attention to such other significant non-brewing assets as the Toronto Blue Jays, the Toronto Argonauts...

Now that Interbrew has sold Labatt Communications to a Can-Am consortium led by former Labatt Communications Chairman and ceo, Gordon Craig, the brewer can turn its attention to such other significant non-brewing assets as the Toronto Blue Jays, the Toronto Argonauts and SkyDome.

But what the Belgian firm intends to do with 90% of baseball’s Blue Jays, 100% of the Canadian Football League’s Argonauts and 42% of SkyDome, the Toronto entertainment palace where both teams play their home games, isn’t clear.

Ever since the 600-year-old brewery announced its takeover of Labatt, it has said repeatedly it’s not interested in the Canadian beer maker’s non-brewing interests. Still, the beer marketing clout of the Blue Jays – and to a much lesser extent the Argonauts – shouldn’t be underestimated, and may be sufficiently hefty for Interbrew to reassess its position.

Bruce MacLellan, president of Environics Communications in Toronto, Interbrew’s North American spokesman, says if such things as timing and price can be worked out Interbrew would prefer to sell the Blue Jays, Argonauts and its share of SkyDome.

However, says MacLellan, the Belgian brewer would definitely be interested in keeping the beer and sports marketing connection that’s in place now in the event the two teams and its part of SkyDome are sold.

Interbrew is not yet soliciting bids for either sports team or its 42% of SkyDome, says MacLellan, because selling Labatt Communications – tsn, rds, The Discovery Channel and other properties – has occupied its time.

Should Interbrew decide to sell, it will pick up many millions of dollars – the Blue Jays franchise alone is worth well over $100 million – but that decision won’t be made wholly from head office in Leuven, a suburb of Brussels.

MacLellan says the brewery has a reputation for giving local management significant autonomy.

Paul Smith, a spokesman for Labatt Breweries, says no decision about the Blue Jays, Argonauts and SkyDome has been made nor is there a rush to make one.

Smith suggests this fall is likely the time the Belgian brewer will choose to go one way or another.

Interbrew has to understand what the Blue Jays and Argonauts are all about and how baseball and football have been ‘fairly significant platforms’ for Labatt’s marketing activities, Smith continues.

In a similar vein, Smith points out Labatt has recently signed promotional deals with Canada’s two newest major league franchises, basketball’s Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies.

Labatt is the ‘exclusive brewer’ for the Grizzlies, says Smith, and a ‘major sponsor’ of the Raptors. Both teams tip off their inaugural seasons in the National Basketball Association later this year.

Unlike large North American breweries, which have a multiplicity of ownership interests in pro sports at all levels – Molson Breweries ownership of the nhl’s Montreal Canadiens is one example – Interbrew doesn’t own any sports teams in Belgium or elsewhere, says Smith.

Peter Cosentino, director of marketing for the Toronto Argonauts, says he’s heard rumors about what Interbrew may or may not do with his team, the Blue Jays and SkyDsome, but he’s heard nothing official.

Interbrew is Belgium’s number one brewery and the fourth largest in the world. Its best known brand in Canada is Stella Artois lager.