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Budweiser: Experiences Are The New Impressions In $1.4 Billion Live Music Sponsorship Market

Forbes, June 15, 2016

By Brittany Hodak

Half of all Americans attended live music events last year, with more than half of the $152 annual average spent by music consumers going toward concerts and festivals. With tens of millions of fans prioritizing live events, it’s no surprise advertisers are looking for ways to capitalize on music’s popularity.

Sponsorship spending on music in 2015 topped $1.4 billion, an increase of 4.8% over the previous year—a larger increase than sponsored spending in sports, cause-marketing and every other tracked sponsorship segment. Compared to 2011, music sponsorship in 2015 was up almost 20%.

According to IEG, spending is largely driven by two factors: continued sponsor interest in national music festivals and “a growing appetite for regional music fests.” The most active sponsor of music across all tracked categories is Anheuser-Busch, with its brands representing 29% of the market among music properties with alcoholic beverage sponsors. In 2012, its Budweiser brand even launched its own annual event: Philadelphia’s Made In America Festival, a partnership with Jay Z’s Roc Nation that attracts 80,000 fans each Labor Day Weekend.

In April, Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand announced it was doubling down on its country music marketing strategy with a three-story touring structure called The Budweiser Country Club hitting powerhouse country festivals Stagecoach, Country 500, CMA Music Festival and Faster Horses during the summer of 2016.

I spoke with Ricardo Marques, VP of Budweiser, about the brand’s increased spending on country music sponsorship and strategy for connecting with music fans—including the all-important millennial consumer base. He admits that the Budweiser Country Club, which includes local vendors selling their own American-made wares alongside Budweiser, is a sizeable step up from what would have been considered an impactful sponsorship just a few years ago.

“Budweiser is one of the most powerful brands in the industry, so awareness is no longer the main driving point for sponsorships,” Marques says. “It’s no longer about the signage or the size of a logo on a poster or a ticket or a stage. It’s about what people talk about and the experience they take away and talk about later and remember and post online.”

The Budweiser Country Club structure was designed with those goals in mind. “We’re super excited about this activation,” Marques says. “We’ve been getting great feedback from people who’ve been through it at Stagecoach and Country 500 and CMA Fest, not only because it embodies the spirit of country music and the spirit of Budweiser, but also because it’s allowed people to be immersed in an experience.”

The experience in the several-thousand-square-foot area in and around the barn-shaped “Club” includes dedicated areas for playing corn hole, taking photos, asking Budweiser’s “brewmasters” questions about the brewing process and, of course, ordering draft and bottled beer. There are also several spaces featuring the work of local artisans. At CMA Fest, lines were often two-dozen people deep for the iconic poster company Hatch Show Print and leather koozies that fans could emblazon with custom letters and designs.

Budweiser’s country strategy also includes enlisting stars Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett to enhance the Budweiser Country Club experience. The artists stopped by the activation during CMA Fest to greet fans, serve as “guest bartenders” at the 20-foot bar and talk about their affinity for beer.

Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley admitted that the band gets approached for sponsorship and endorsement deals all the time. The duo (who ranked at #7 on Forbes’ 2015 Country Cash Kings list with estimated earnings of $36.5 million) certainly isn’t hurting for cash, so instead they make decisions about all would-be sponsorship deals based on one key element: authenticity.

“We love drinking beer, and Budweiser is our favorite. It’s organic and the fans know it’s real. It’s who we are and what we love so it works well,” Kelley said of the partnership.

“[FGL co-vocalist] Tyler [Hubbard] and I realized early on when we first met that when we come together it’s better than doing it separately,” Kelley says of the duo’s formation. “There was something magical, cool, bigger than ourselves that was happening and that people were connecting to, so we stuck together and tried to make it as good as it can be. Teaming up with Budweiser is the same thing. It’s two teams coming together and seeing how much fun we can have together.”

Thomas Rhett added, “Budweiser has been around for a long time, and so has country music. Everything Budweiser represents: being made in America, hard work and authenticity, represents everything I do as an artist.”

Buzz words like “authenticity” and “experience” are key as Budweiser fights to regain market share against craft beers, which in the past decade have seen double-digit gains in sales, especially among younger drinkers. The local artisans are a key part of Budweiser’s strategy to connect with drinkers who value local culture. “We’ve seen time and time again how important it is to leverage local cultural impact,” Marques says.

Budweiser spent more than $1 million to build out its Budweiser Country Club activation. That cost is in addition to the sponsorship rights for the festivals, partnership deals with the artists and travel/labor costs. Although the brand was unable to comment on those amounts for this article, sponsorship and activation rights for each of the four festivals were likely high-five to low-six-figure deals each, with another likely six-figure outlay for artist talent. Add in the cost of local labor and transporting the structure from festival to festival and it’s safe to assume the brand is spending millions on this country music marketing initiative.

Based on attendance numbers of the festivals, an estimated 12,000 and 25,000 people per event are likely experiencing the activation. While the per-person (or “per-experience”) cost may seem high—potentially $35 per person assuming a conservative total cost estimate of $2.5 million and 70,000 visitors over the summer—that’s a relatively low customer acquisition cost for a brand that, if it builds affinity, has the potential to capture incremental retail sales from visitors for many decades.

Time will tell if Budweiser (or “America,” as it has rebranded itself for the next several months) can position itself as the favorite beer among millennial drinkers by staging engaging live music activations. If it can’t, it won’t be for lack of trying: A-B was the most active sponsor of music in 2015 across all brand categories. It took over the title of “most active sponsor” from Coca-Cola the 2014 leader. Compared to other beer brands, A-B is 2.6 times more likely than MillerCoors to sponsor a live event, and 3.6 times as likely as Heineken.

Budweiser’s Country Club is part of its broader summer campaign called “America Is In Your Hands” which will play out across sports, retail, other music and Olympic sponsorship activations. Budweiser ranked #25 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands with a valuation of $23.4 billion dollars and annual sales of $10.9 billion.

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