World Cup sponsor Budweiser can now only sell non-alcoholic beer to spectators attending this year's matches.
The start of this year's FIFA World Cup is roughly 48 hours away, but host country Qatar is still making significant changes regarding the tournament. Earlier this week, the Qatari royal family requested that Budweiser, the tournament's official beer sponsor, move its beer tents to less conspicuous locations around the eight stadiums where matches would be held. But now the country has made an even bigger decision, telling Budweiser that they cannot sell any alcoholic beverages outside the stadium perimeters. The only product that they will be allowed to serve is alcohol-free Bud Zero.
This massive change, which was first reported by The Times, was said to "come as a shock" to soccer's world governing body FIFA — and undoubtedly to Budweiser as well. Budweiser's parent company AB InBev has been a sponsor of the World Cup since 1986, and it reportedly paid $75 million to remain the exclusive beer vendor for this year's tournament. "Well, this is awkward," the @Budweiser account tweeted (and then quickly deleted) on Friday morning.
"Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from [...] stadium perimeters," FIFA said in a statement. "The tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev's understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022."
Qatar is a dry country and alcohol sales are stringently regulated — under normal circumstances, alcoholic drinks are only available at a handful of licensed hotel bars. Drinking alcohol in public places is not permitted, and those who are seen drunk in public can face criminal charges. (CNBC reports that, during the World Cup, intoxicated soccer supporters will be "sent to special zones to sober up.")
Regardless, when Qatar was vying to become this year's World Cup host, it agreed to sell alcohol in stadiums, and it again confirmed to FIFA that this would be the case when it was awarded the tournament in 2010. The Times has suggested that, due to Qatar’s last-minute U-turn, FIFA could now be breaching its eight-figure contract with Budweiser.
As it stands, the only fans who will be allowed to have alcohol inside the stadiums will be those who are seated inside each venue's corporate hospitality boxes, and the cost of those suites starts at around $22,000 per match. (That's one heck of a cover charge.)
"As partners of FIFA for over three decades, we look forward to our activations of FIFA World Cup campaigns around the world to celebrate football with our consumers," an AB InBev spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. "Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control."