Budweiser stays committed to sports

The beer brand marries its frontline worker tribute with hockey's return and continues a cooking series with athletes stuck at home.


Canadians harbour a lot of affection for both front-line workers and hockey, and Budweiser is marrying the two with a thank you concert during the recently-returned-to-the-ice Toronto Maple Leafs’ game this weekend, along with new digital ads.

It’s also reinforcing longstanding pairing of summer BBQ and beer by adding to its popular cook-off contest series featuring professional and retired athletes, including hockey players.

Budweiser is building off the goodwill it created with an emotional March “#OneTeam” video, one of the earliest efforts from a brand to showcase healthcare professionals, Red Cross volunteers and other “frontline heroes” during the pandemic with the tagline, “This season, we’re all One Team.” It’s part of a broader effort benefiting the Canadian Red Cross, the group to which Budweiser Canada recently donated $500,000.

The latest Canadian iteration of the campaign is built upon an Arkells concert that will air during the primetime broadcast of the Leafs’ game against the Columbus Bluejackets on Sunday. Also during the game, the latest YouTube #OneTeam tribute features interviews with two prominent front-line workers and also has a hockey tie-in, hosted by Hometown Hockey’s Tara Slone.

Sportsnet and TVA are helping promote the Sunday concert, with promo during Saturday’s Montreal Canadiens game and other programming leading up to the Leafs Bluejackets tilt.

Todd Allen, VP of marketing for Labatt Breweries, says #OneTeam is more COVID-specific than a long-term CSR play, to rally Canadians, and the brewer will continue to play its part with the Canadian Red Cross. He says it was important having front line workers having a voice of their own, because of their dedication.

The hockey-centric nature of the initiatives should come as no surprise: Budweiser Canada signed an official partnership deal with the NHL in December, and the importance of the partnership has remained, despite the lengthy postponement of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hockey is still going to be a huge push for us, and we will be very active,” says Allen. “But we are going to keep every sport top of mind, to be honest.”

Budweiser is also the official partner of the Toronto Blue Jays and the NFL. And that’s why pro athletes of all stripes are going head to head in BBQ battle royales as part of Budweiser’s digital cooking series “Battle of the Grill,” new instalments of which were added this week.

The series feature the likes of MMA champ Georges St Pierre going up against retired Canadiens enforcer Georges Laracque, Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Bossy taking on retired goalie Patrick Lalime, and all-star NFL tight-ends Travis Kelce and George Kittle battling one another, just to name a few.

“Budweiser and BBQ was always a key pillar of our summer plans,” Allen says, being core element of how it activates every August – right now, the brand is also doing a retail promotion linked to barbecue, with free steaks and chickens from M&M Meats with the purchase of Budweiser cases.

But pairing the two “only accelerated when COVID hit, when everyone was at home,” Allen says. With so many athletes being idle, he says the brewer came up with the idea to have these very competitive people take on one another. The series, born out of an entertainment vacuum thanks to COVID, has been so successful, it will be carried forward with new instalments through the summer.

The series utilizes the brand’s always-on “Red Light” sports platform, and is hosted by ex-player Paul Bissonnettte, who featured back when the brand was hiring someone to watch hockey, and putting out a call-out for a “Chief Hockey Officer.”

Anomaly handled the creative campaign elements, with Veritas on PR.

Budweiser parent company Labatt, like most beer companies, has been hit hard by the pandemic, with the closure of bars and restaurants causing a major hit to their business and the postponement of things like festivals and sports, some of the category’s biggest marketing occasions. That’s on top of existing challenges, like the need to diversify their portfolios in response to evolving consumer tastes.

On that note, Allen adds that Prohibition was recently rebranded to Budweiser Zero as the brand continues to tap the potential of non-alcoholic beer and non-beer additions to its brand portfolio. The name change was to make it more direct and to the point in terms of marketing, Allen says.