Anheuser-Busch InBev’s potential acquisition of SABMiller could have major ramifications across the sponsorship industry, namely a pullback in spending in one of the industry’s most active categories.

With the proposed acquisition as a backdrop—as well as growing competition from craft brewers—IEG SR reached out to Anheuser-Busch for an update on the beer giant’s evolving sponsorship strategy.

Although any fallout from the potential acquisition wouldn’t be known for months, rightsholders across the sports and entertainment landscape are already feeling the impact of what Anheuser-Busch has on tap.

The company’s new strategy can largely be boiled down into three components: one-of-a-kind experiences, ownable platforms and digital content.

As part of the strategy, Anheuser-Busch is moving its sponsorship staff from St. Louis to New York City as part of its new consumer connections team, which combines experiential marketing and media for the first time.

In edited comments below, Eelco van der Noll, Anheuser-Busch vice president of experiential marketing, discusses how Michelob Ultra is adding recreational activities to its endurance sports-centric portfolio, how Bud Light is doubling down on the NFL to access unique content and experiences, and the role of music in Budweiser’s marketing mix.

On The Role Of Sponsorship In Michelob Ultra’s Growth
Light beer posts 17 percent year-over-year increase in dollar sales, due in part to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, PGA Tour, 13. 1 Marathon Series and other partnerships, with more deals on tap.

Our goal is always to bring new consumers into the franchise to accelerate the growth that we’ve seen. Michelob Ultra’s sponsorships allow us to get product in hands via on-site sampling and authentically align the brand with sports and recreational activities that resonate with our target consumer who leads an active lifestyle and focuses on well-being.

Authentically connecting with consumers is the basis of each of our sponsorships. For instance, runners train for months for races, and we want Michelob Ultra to be the beer that’s there at the finish line as they celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.

In our marketing, we’ve shifted from physical, hard-core athletic imagery to more casual, recreational sports which makes us a more universally attainable brand.

We recently announced a partnership with American Hiking Society to celebrate the great outdoors with the Superior Trails program, around which we will award philanthropic grants that allow for the refurbishment of trails in need.

This is part of the shift that you’ll see in our marketing and advertising this year—we’re still targeting athletes, but we’re taking a slightly more casual tone by focusing on more recreational activities like hiking, kayaking and golfing.

On Activating The NFL With Team-Specific Cans
A-B uses the NFL to support new strategy of offering unique content and experiences.

Customization and individuality is really important to everyone who drinks Bud Light. We are always looking for ways to elevate our fans’ experiences—­for both sports and music—and having a can that means something to you makes that first sip more special.

Fans love football and the NFL, but what they really invest in emotionally each week is their individual team. That’s why, while we have created NFL team-specific logo cans before, this year we decided to do something different. We worked closely with our 28 NFL team partners to create the new 2015-2016 Bud Light team can designs that include individualized messages that speak directly to each team’s passionate fan base.

In July, we hosted the NFL and all 28 NFL team partners at the first-ever Bud Light NFL Partners Summit at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Having all of our team partners, as well as our regional representatives and various agencies, in one room provided everyone the opportunity to understand what Bud Light wants to deliver to fans this NFL season.

The meeting allowed us as a brand to share our vision for how we’d like to work with each team to deliver one-of-kind experiences and content to their fan bases, and in turn each team left the summit with the understanding that they had the full support of Bud Light to help make that happen.

Without question we feel that the summit was a success; from feedback from the individuals who were in attendance, as well as the great fan experience ideas our team partners have been proactively bringing us since.

On The Role Of Music In Budweiser’s Marketing Mix
Budweiser focuses on music as primary marketing platform; replaces NASCAR program with Busch.

Budweiser and music are cultural touch points that go hand-in-hand in the celebration of the American spirit. The brand has a decades-long history of celebrating great American music, including the Budweiser Superfest headlined by Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and some memorable Rolling Stones tours.

We just wrapped the fourth-annual Budweiser Made In America festival in Philadelphia, which was the culmination of a summer-long music program that included the Monument Series, a two-city, coast-to-coast concert series that celebrated Budweiser’s partnership with the National Parks Foundation.

NASCAR continues to be a priority platform for our beer portfolio, and the Busch brand is well positioned for this partnership given the brand’s storied history with the sport. We have a lot of exciting plans in development with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2016.

The Ten Largest U.S. Beer Brands
Brand Dollar Sales Year-over-Year Dollar Sales Dollar Share
Bud Light $6.1B 0.7% 18.64%
Coors Light $2.3B 0.2% 7.27%
Budweiser $2.1B 0.2% 6.50%
Miller Lite $1.9B 3.6% 6.06%
Corona Extra $1.4B 10.6% 4.47%
Natural Light $1B (4.6%) 3.28%
Michelob Ultra $1B 17.2% 3.12%
Modelo Especial $856M 24.9% 2.61%
Busch Light $841M 1.0% 2.57%
Heineken $724M 2.5% 2.21%
Sales at U.S. supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, gasoline/c-stores, military commissaries and select club and dollar stores in the year-ending Sept. 6, 2015 per IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm (@iriworldwide).