Bud Light’s NFL roster has a new teammate.
Babe, a canned wine brand co-founded by Instagram influencer Josh “The Fat Jewish” Ostrovsky, has become the NFL’s first-ever “Official Wine Sponsor.” Kicking off this season, Babe’s canned wines filled with rosé, a red blend, and Pinot Grigio will be sold at 12 NFL stadiums, scoring partnerships with a handful of teams including the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, and the Denver Broncos. The brand will also make appearances at the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl.
David Oliver Cohen, a co-founder of Babe, says that when the brand launched in 2016, “one thing that stood out to us was there was nothing in the wine and spirits space for women and younger drinkers to drink at sporting events and concert venues.” Women, after all, account for about half of all NFL viewers.
The new sponsorship deal makes sense when taking into account that the NFL’s beer sponsor, Bud Light maker Anheuser-Busch InBev, now also owns Babe. AB InBev first bought a stake in Babe in 2018 before fully acquiring the brand this summer. It is the only wine brand that the world’s largest brewer owns in the United States.
While football stadiums have traditionally been beer’s home turf, Babe’s ties to the NFL shows that even AB InBev is acknowledging that alcohol drinkers aren’t always as loyal as football fans. That’s why the brewer also inked a deal earlier this season to make the company’s Bon & Viv the “Official Hard Seltzer Sponsor” for the NFL.
“It isn’t true anymore that people have one brand that they drink all day, every day,” says Chelsea Phillips, vice president for AB InBev’s Beyond Beer brands, which includes Babe.
Demand for hard seltzers and canned wines have exploded, a trend that’s pressured sales for traditional mainstream beers like Bud Light. Canned wines generate over $81 million in annual sales, according to data by research firm Nielsen. And variety has proliferated in the form of at least 22 wine brands selling as many as 386 different canned wines. Canned wines have become alluring to consumers, especially millennials, because they give them permission to drink wine at occasions like sports stadiums where glassware isn’t allowed.
Babe is the second wine maker to score a league sponsorship stateside. Starting in 2018, South American wine importer Excelsior Wines kicked off a partnership with Major League Soccer.
In an advertising spot by AB InBev to support the new sponsorship, a stuffy wine connoisseur is tackled by media personality and model Kayla Nicole, who also has a connection to the league as the girlfriend of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. After the hit, Nicole turns to the camera and says Babe is “how football does wine.”
Babe’s marketing and branding, as well as Nicole’s prominent feature in the ad, implies the AB InBev is only planning to tackle the NFL’s female audience. But Cohen says Babe was never meant to be overtly feminine.
“We feel gender is the least important part of our brand,” Cohen says. Still, women drink more wine than men, and with millions of women attending or watching NFL games each week, Babe’s female-friendly marketing might not be such a bad bet.
What excites Cohan is that by entering NFL stadiums for the first time, Babe will get an opportunity to introduce the brand to more Americans, many of whom likely haven’t had a chance to try it yet. He asserts that while Babe’s social-media savvy marketing has led to high awareness, distribution wasn’t always as solid for the emerging brand.
That’s where AB InBev really comes into play. The brewer first became the NFL’s beer sponsor in 2011 after winning the business from rival MillerCoors’ Coors Light. Four years later, the NFL and Bud Light renewed their partnership through the 2022 Super Bowl to the tune of $1.4 billion.
AB InBev declined to disclose any financial terms for the additional partnership with Babe, though one can ascertain that hard seltzer and canned wine sponsorships weren’t top of mind when the contract was renewed in 2015.
“The data we have on our sales in sporting events and concert venues shows [Babe] does really well,” says Cohen. “Having an opportunity to showcase the brand and have ads in the stadium, it lets people know this brand is here.”
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