Anheuser-Busch InBev , whose execution of its new NFL sponsorship has gotten mixed reviews, is hoping to close year one with a bang by taking over an 180-room Hampton Inn near Lucas Oil Stadium and rebranding it "Bud Light Hotel," filling it with concerts, celebrities and Playboy bunnies. This is the third straight year the brewer has run Bud Light Hotel on Super Bowl weekend. But this year marks the first time A-B InBev will have the advantage of doing it as an NFL sponsor, which means it gets access to a special zone around the stadium controlled by the NFL. (The Hampton Inn is four blocks from Lucas Oil.)
"They have a footprint within each host market where Super Bowl marketing can take place and they reserve that for their partners," said Mike Sundet, senior director of Bud Light, the official beer brand of the NFL. "What the Bud Light Hotel gives us is a truly immersive experience that makes a big statement that weekend."
Everything at the hotel will be rebranded as Bud Light, including the sign out front as well as towels, floor mats, soaps, room-service menus and even pillow mints.
A-B InBev is paying an estimated $50 million a year for six years for the NFL sponsorship, which it took over from MillerCoors last year. Among the benefits are the right to use the NFL shield and other logos in advertising and retail displays. Executives predicted big returns on the investment, but so far some industry observers are underwhelmed. "I don't think they fully capitalized on it in year one," said Benj Steinman, president of beer trade pub Beer Marketer's Insights. "They certainly didn't move the needle on the Bud Light trend in year one."
Bud Light remains the top-selling brand in beer by a wide margin, but shipments dropped 1.2% in 2011, marking its third straight year of declines, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Still, with most big brands struggling, Bud Light eked out a slight market share gain, moving from 19% to 19.1%.
Of course, Bud Light's sponsorship was complicated last summer by fears of an NFL lockout. Mr. Sundet said the sponsorship "got off to a good start," but "it was a tough year one with the labor situation. There [were] some uncertainties early on in our deal." But "I think there's a ton of opportunity to continue to build on what we've established." An A-B InBev spokesperson added that its "NFL-specific measures are thriving" and that there is still "a lot of untapped potential."
NFL-themed ads this season were by longtime roster shop Cannonball, which also created one of six spots the brewer will run during the Super Bowl. (A-B InBev is the exclusive Super Bowl beer advertiser under a deal that is separate from the NFL sponsorship.)
In Indy, A-B InBev is filling a majority of the Bud Light Hotel rooms with contest winners from a national sweepstakes. As sponsor, the brewer can also give winners tickets to the game, which it couldn't do when it ran the hotel promotion at the two previous Super Bowls in Dallas and Miami. Events at the hotel include the EA Sports Madden Bowl XVIII video-game tournament, a Playboy party and two concerts: one on Super Bowl eve featuring 50 Cent, Lil Jon and Pitbull and one on game day headlined by the Barenaked Ladies.
The brewer is seeking national exposure by streaming the Saturday concert on celebrity gossip site omg! run by Yahoo. It is also running a contest on its Facebook page where it will pick a "Bud Light Hotel correspondent." The winner will get a salary and star in videos posted during Super Bowl week to the brewer's Facebook and YouTube pages.