Anheuser-Busch InBev will dramatically scale back its presence at the Super Bowl this February, including the elimination of large-scale hospitality that is common for NFL partners, according to two people familiar with the decision.
One of the NFL’s most visible sponsors, the beer giant has decided not to host the roughly 600 people it usually brings to the big game each year, one person said. While it will still advertise—and serve beer—throughout weeklong Super Bowl festivities in Tampa, Fla., leadership concluded that there’s too much uncertainty surrounding fan attendance and COVID-19 precautions to invest the millions it typically costs to fully prepare for the game.
That’s a potentially bad omen for the country’s biggest sporting event. The Super Bowl is a weeklong celebration, packed with media events, corporate parties and fan fests. It’s a vibrant economy, fueled by the league and its sponsors, that typically hosts hundreds of thousands of fans leading up to the game itself.
An NFL spokesman declined to comment on the plans of specific sponsors. A representative for Anheuser-Busch declined to provide details, but confirmed that the company wasn’t hosting large gatherings amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, “at the Super Bowl and elsewhere.”
In August, the Tampa host committee unveiled its plans for the Feb. 7 game and the preceding week, including a Super Bowl Experience that spans nearly 3 miles alongside the city’s Riverwalk. The set-up will house a free football theme park, plus areas with food, drink, live music and other football-related activities.
How much of that will actually come to fruition remains uncertain due to the pandemic, which has already disrupted the NFL regular season multiple times and is growing worse in many parts of the country. In Florida, for example, reported cases are up 29% over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times database.
The league has stressed that it has options regarding how the regular season and postseason play out—Commissioner Roger Goodell told team owners earlier this month that flexibility would be the theme of the season—but no major changes have been made as of yet. Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy said earlier this month that the league could push the Super Bowl back “as far as four weeks.”
Anheuser-Busch typically hosts around 600 Super Bowl guests, a mix of sweepstakes winners, employees, wholesalers and internal clients. That won’t happen this year, meaning the company won’t need upwards of 400 hotel rooms, nor many of the other accommodations usually required for those people.
It also won’t book high-end musical acts or host parties. The plan on the ground is bare bones for the NFL’s official beer—it will focus primarily on signed advertising, and product distribution.
Anheuser-Busch is one of more than three dozen league sponsors, all of which pay top dollar to associate themselves with the country’s richest and most popular league. The Anheuser-Busch deal, renewed in 2015, is worth $250 million per year, according to ESPN.