“A week before the opening game, tournament organizers are scrambling to balance late changes ordered by powerful Qatari officials with the interests of a major FIFA sponsor, Budweiser.”
The message came from the highest levels of the Qatari state: The beer tents must be moved, and there would be no discussion about it.
With the opening game of the World Cup only days away, Qatari organizers have been working hurriedly in recent days to relocate Budweiser-branded beer stations at eight stadiums after a sudden demand that three people with knowledge of the belated change said had come from inside the country’s royal family.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss sensitive planning details for the tournament. World Cup officials appeared to confirm the changes in a statement, however. Budweiser said it only learned of the new plan on Saturday — eight days before the tournament’s first game.
Ever since FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, awarded the hosting rights to Qatar in December 2010, tournament organizers have grappled with balancing the obligations they signed up to fulfill — which include the sale of alcohol and providing promotional space for Budweiser, one of FIFA’s biggest sponsors — with concerns about upsetting, or alienating, a domestic constituency that has chafed at some of the culture clash inherent in bringing a traditionally beer-soaked event to a Muslim nation.
Qatar consented when launching its historic hosting bid in 2009 to respect FIFA’s commercial partnerships, including the long-established Budweiser deal that was renewed 11 years ago with brewer AB InBev through the 2022 tournament.
World Cup organizers finally confirmed a beer sales policy in September covering the stadiums and official FIFA-authorized fan sites. On Saturday, just eight days before the first games, the agreement was tweaked to give Budweiser-branded sales tents less visibility for serving beer with alcohol within stadium perimeters.
FIFA does not publish the value of individual World Cup commercial deals, but a second-tier sponsorship such as Budweiser is worth tens of millions of dollars.
The compromise on beer sales in Qatar was announced only in September and allowed for beer with alcohol to be served before and after games in the stadium perimeter. Only alcohol-free Bud Zero can be served during games and within the stadium bowl.
Champagne, wines and spirits as well as beer will be served at stadium restaurants and lounges for corporate hospitality clients. Fans staying in most high-end hotels and three cruise ships hired by organizers as floating hotels for the tournament also can buy a range of alcoholic drinks.