One of the world’s biggest spenders is taking a new approach to sponsorship.

Looking to make a deeper connection with consumers, Anheuser-Busch InBev is placing more focus on leveraging sponsorship to access one-of-a-kind content and experiences, with the ultimate goal of driving sales.

As part of the strategy, A-B has doubled down on proprietary events and replaced its ubiquitous presence across the sports and entertainment landscape in favor of strategic partnerships that drive ROI.

Demonstrating the strategy in action, A-B this year “rightsized” its partnership with the MLB New York Mets by replacing its giant Budweiser sign in Citi Field with more experiential marketing assets as part of its contract extension.

Eelco van der Noll, Anheuser-Busch InBev vice president of experiential marketing, discussed the beer giant’s new sponsorship strategy in his presentation “From Biggest To Best” at IEG 2016.

Below are edited excerpts from his presentation.

From Mass Communicators To A Mass Of Communicators
We want to create experiences in which beer drinkers become our media outlets. If you have a good time consuming our products and experiences, you share it. You become a mass communicator. I’ll save a lot of money with NBC, CBS, ABC and other media outlets because consumers are doing the job for us.

Reinventing Experiential
Our guiding principles are rent and own. I can go to the NFL, FIFA or Major League Baseball, pay a lot of money and borrow equity. That’s good—it taps into passion points and provides immediate scale. But it comes with a hefty price.

The other side of the spectrum is owned events. We’re experimenting with those types of things as well—we’re looking for the right balance. Owned events are expensive, it takes time to build equity, and you have to operate it. So we’re trying to find the right balance.

Partnership is an overused word, but it’s very important. We need to get teams, leagues and other properties we work with to partner with us. It still happens too often—a property comes to us with a term sheet and says ‘Here is the logo, here is price tag, and off we go.’ We’re not doing that anymore. Our investment in sports, entertainment, film and music will not go down, but who we invest with is going to change. The ones that do it right will benefit. We’ll drop the ones that don’t.

You’ll see some examples in the next few weeks. There are a variety of teams that we’re pulling out from for a variety of reasons. They wouldn’t play ball with us.

Replacing Ubiquity With Strategic Partnerships
We used to be everywhere. It was the right time to have a giant sign at Citi Field 15 or 20 years ago, but not now. We have near 100 percent awareness for Bud Light and Budweiser. We need partnerships, we need to enhance the fan experience, and we need to sell more beer.

We have a lot of legacy deals—deals that were renewed for no other reason than we have been doing them for the past 20 years. We want to be legendary—we don’t want legacy deals.

Whoever we partner with has to fit our strategy, which is not brand awareness. It’s building brand affinity, brand attributes and winning the hearts and minds of consumers. It’s not about signage—it’s about the experience we can offer inside the stadium, outside the stadium, in living rooms and at retail.

We also want rightsholders to be actively involved in building programs. We want them to have skin in the game. Writing a check is easy and accepting a check is easy. Let’s see how we can work together to really make a partnership work.

The Importance of Rightsizing
Rights fees have escalated in the beer category over the past two decades, and we have played a role in driving that inflation. So we, as a leader, can also correct that. And that’s what we’re going to do. That’s not a threat; we have too much money tied up in rights fees, which means we can’t activate in the proper way and sell more beer. At the end of the day we all lose.

Over the past 10 or 20 years craft beers came into the market, many of which are regional or multi-regional. All of a sudden the $1 million beer category became a $2 million category, and more often than not we pay 75 percent to 80 percent of that bill. If we want to be exclusive, a team will say we have to buy the category out for $3 million.

Properties can insist on a shared deal, but if they do, we’re out. And all of a sudden their $2 million rights fee becomes $300,000 or $400,000 based on what the other brands are paying. We’re after exclusive deals: we want to get married, we don’t want to have affairs, and we want rightsholders—teams in particular— to be realistic about the value of the deals.

Anheuser-Busch’s Reinvented Sponsorship Strategy
Anheuser-Busch's Reinvented Sponsorship Strategy