CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Anheuser-Busch has apparently outbid MillerCoors to be the National Football League's official beer sponsor.
In a memo to its wholesalers today, MillerCoors said the "NFL is a great partner, and we talked extensively with them about the future, but ultimately could not reach agreement about the value of the league sponsorship."
Coors Light has been the NFL's official beer since 2002, and the platform is often cited by distributors as a key cog in the brand's category-best sales trends during the past five years.
Coors Light re-upped with the NFL in 2005, with a reported five-year, $500 million agreement that runs through the 2010 season. It was widely expected the brewer would renew, but apparently A-B made an aggressive push that led to what MillerCoors' announcement described as a "bidding war" for the sponsorship.
An A-B spokesman didn't immediately return a call seeking comment, and neither the brewer nor the NFL has confirmed that they have a deal yet.
In recent years, the brand's "press conference" ads starring retired NFL coaches became so ubiquitous during NFL broadcasts that they wound up inspiring a legion of YouTube parodies. But those spots are unlikely to outlive the 2010 NFL season, which will be the last one where Coors Light is allowed to use the NFL's official marks and logos.
While A-B has been the longstanding beer sponsor of the Super Bowl broadcast, it's had to find ways to create football-centric creative without the benefit of an official sponsorship during the season. A-B's football campaign last year for Bud Light centered around a shopping-channel host who showed off "tailgate approved" items, such as a hybrid grill and beer cooler called a "Grooler."
The new sponsorship wouldn't be without significant risk for A-B, and not only because the price was apparently too rich for MillerCoors. The deal begins in 2011, and the NFL's owners and players have yet to agree on terms of a new collective-bargaining agreement for that season yet, meaning there's a chance that all or part of the campaign could be lost to a work stoppage.
But A-B apparently deemed that risk acceptable, given that the NFL is widely considered sports' best beer-selling platform. Bud Light could certainly use all the help it can get: It remains the largest beer brand in the U.S. by a significant margin, but it suffered through its first negative sales year in 2009 and its results haven't markedly improved since.
Beginning in 2011, getting by without the official NFL deal becomes Coors Light's problem. "It's disappointing to lose it," said one major-market MillerCoors distributor. "In recent years, we've really seen Coors Light's numbers spike during football season. Now they're going to have to figure out a way to keep that momentum going without the NFL."