Things have been looking pretty bright lately on the financial side for the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion. Just in the last few days, the UFC announced that they had landed the largest sponsor deal in the promotion’s 30-year history. A $100 million contract in partnership with Anheuser-Busch and their Bud Light beer brand.
For Bud Light, this news comes after months of public backlash, boycotting, and sales downturns for the alcoholic beverage giants. That’s in the wake of a brief ad campaign starring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The initial spot with Mulvaney aired during March Madness back in April, and caused immediate outcry from conservative media and public figures. That led Bud Light to swiftly distance themselves from Mulvaney, causing members of the LGBTQ+ community to stage their own boycotts of the brand.
Dana White delivers response to critics over Bud Light deal
All of which, eventually, appears to have pushed the beer company back to a familiar branding partner: The UFC. Bud Light was the official beer brand of the Octagon from 2008 to 2017—replacing Mickey’s malt liquor initially, before eventually getting replaced by Modelo, themselves. Many pundits see this deal as an attempt from Anheuser-Busch InBev to re-align their brand with a promotion, and promoter, that can capture the kind of younger male demographic that Bud Light has been losing out on in recent years.
At a recent press conference for Power Slap UFC CEO Dana White fielded a question about the UFC’s new deal with AB InBev and what, if any, criticism that move has brought with it.
“Listen, believe me, if you think I got into this thinking that that wouldn’t happen, you’re out of your mind,” Dana White told reporters when asked about backlash he’s received over the UFC’s Bud Light deal. “People are very opinionated about this. It’s almost like in the COVID thing, right? Through COVID? What did I say during COVID? ‘Somebody’s gotta be first.’ And there are reasons why I felt we could ‘be first’ going through COVID; knew that we would do it right, yada yada yada. You know the story.
“But, when it comes to Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light? Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you did it for money!’ Hey dummies, all sponsorship deals are about money, okay? So when you talk about being a sellout? I had multiple deals in front of me. So it’s not like, oh, Bud Light showed up, and they were the only option I had to get money. You know how f*cking stupid that is, to think that?
“This was all about—and I said this yesterday and I’ll say it again—everybody on every side of this deal that were involved, other beer companies and everything else, absolutely positively know that this was not about money for me. We were going to end up with money with no matter who we ended up with.”
“For Anheuser-Busch, it was about core values for me. I’m in a point in my life, and I’m in a point in my career, where nothing is just about money anymore. I am very aligned—and I saw some other f*cking *sshole today saying, ‘Oh, it sounds like they wrote him a script on what to say.’ Nobody writes me a script, nobody tells me what to say. Ever.
“When I come out and say something publicly? If you look at every quote, right, that I put out… every quote is me. Every quote is me, everything that’s posted on social media is me and everything that comes out of this mouth is me. Nobody tells me what to say and nobody tells me what to do. Ever.”
Dana White outlines Anheuser-Busch values
More and more, recently, the UFC has been pushing itself toward a more politically conservative public stance as a business. In a recent Fox News interview, Dana White struck out at what he sees as ‘woke’ ideologies, proudly proclaiming that “we don’t do anything woke over here, at all.” The promotion was also notable for its attempts to sidestep COVID regulations in the early days of the pandemic, and has become a reliable platform for former President Donald Trump to make public appearances—a relationship that even got Dana White a prominent speaking position at the last Republican National Convention.
It’s likely that’s the kind of political clout Anheuser-Busch is hoping will rub off on their Bud Light brand. In the same Power Slap presser, Dana White made his pitch as to why the company is a perfect fit for the UFC.
“And the things I said about Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light yesterday are absolutely true,” White explained, referencing a recent Fox News interview.
“I am a big Military/Law Enforcement guy. They have this, ‘Folds of Honor’ where they’ve spent $44 million over the last however-many years. Fallen first responders and military people, their families get taken care of with this money; scholarships for their kids, etc. That is right up my alley. Almost a billion dollars a year go to US farmers, for their crops, for their products. That is right up my alley, that is exactly who I am. 65,000 Americans are employed by Anheuser-Busch, and thousands of them are vets. Right up my alley.
“And I could keep going on and on forever and tell you why I am more aligned with Anheuser-Busch than any of the other beer companies that were offering to pay us money.”
How many other options did the UFC really have?
To hear Dana White tell it, the promotion had a whole host of options to choose from and AB InBev was simply the clear frontrunner because of their values. But it has to be wondered just how many other real competitors the UFC had for that spot. Especially given the massive amount of money on the table.
Not only does AB InBev have a bigger bank account than most of its competition in the beverage market, but, they also own pieces of a whole lot of their competition in the beverage market. Beyond brands as obvious as Budweiser and Busch, they also have partnerships with (if not outright ownership of) Becks, Corona, Michelob, Modelo (at least outside the US), Stella Artois, Kona, Natty Light, Cutwater cocktails, Bass, Magners, and Pacifico among many others.
That’s right, nestled in the middle of that list is Modelo, the company the UFC just left to go with Bud Light. Maybe some of these brands operate independently enough that the UFC was still at the center of a serious bidding war. But it’s hard not to feel like Anheuser-Busch was working with a very stacked deck. Did the UFC really have a lot of options to consider? Or did they have one truly massive bid and little else that could really compete?
Either way, the UFC boss is doing his part now, to make Anheuser-Busch appear in lock step with UFC values. If this partnership is successful, it may be that the UFC becomes a landing spot for other big brands looking for an image rehab.
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