Rio de Janeiro - Beer and football make a powerful team in Brazil, which is bracing for a drinking bonanza when it hosts the World Cup.
The passion for football is well-known – it has won the World Cup five times.
Brazil is also the third-largest beer producer, brewing more than 13 billion litres of the stuff last year. Such is the country’s love of the beverage that you can even buy beer-flavoured ice cream.
When the sun is baking the sidewalks off Copacabana beach, the first reaction seems to be to order a beer that Brazilians always say arrives “stupidly” cold.
A recent survey commissioned by brewing giant Ambev, the country’s largest company by market value, asked Brazilians to list their national passions. Seventy-seven percent named football; 35 percent said beer.
Now brewers are anticipating a beer boom during the World Cup, which Brazil will host from June 12 to July 13.
A study released this month by Nielsen and Kantar Worldpanel, commissioned by the São Paulo Supermarkets Association, forecast a 37 percent increase in beer consumption during the World Cup and total sales of 1.8 billion reais (R8.3bn) during the four weeks. During the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa, beer sales in Brazil increased 15 percent.
As it is favourite to win again and the tournament is expected to draw 600 000 foreigners, there is plenty to celebrate. One in four beers consumed in Brazil is linked to football, before the match, around the television or in post-game celebration or mourning, according to a study by the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a Brazilian economics institute.
Football and beer have a powerful influence on government policy.
The government ordered a beverage tax hike just before the World Cup, but in the face of brewers’ protests President Dilma Rousseff’s government shelved the increase until after the tournament.
The government also backed off a ban on alcohol sales in stadiums, imposed several years ago to tackle violence at matches. After a drawn-out fight, football’s governing body Fifa won an exemption for the World Cup, upholding its multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with Budweiser, a brand owned by InBev, the firm born from a 2004 merger between Ambev and Belgium’s Interbrew.
Ambev, which has 70 percent market share in Brazil, is seeking to deepen the links between the national drink and the national sport. It is using the tournament to try to convince fans to become paying members of cash-strapped domestic football clubs.
Despite Brazil’s legendary players and their international success, the Brazilian league has withered in recent decades. Most clubs are still managed as they were a century ago and have huge debts.
“Brazil is among the largest economies in the world, its team is among the greatest, but its league is not, it doesn’t have strong local football like Spain or Italy,” Marcel Marcondes, a corporate marketing manager at Ambev, said.
Ambev says it wants to help clubs enrol more members and increase income so they can buy the best players.
It is not about selling more beer, according to Marcondes.
Ambev has partnered with more than a dozen other major companies to launch a programme that offers fans discounts on more than 1 000 products and services if they become members of clubs.
In just over a year the “Movement for a Better Football” programme has helped sign up more than 720 000 members at 49 clubs, bringing them $45 million (R463.5m).
The goal is to reach 3 million members by 2020, which would mean an extra $542m a year for clubs. “Brazilian football is starting to discover the power of the fans to attract companies. The best stakeholders in the clubs are the fans, their most faithful consumers,” said Erich Beting, an expert in football marketing and director of sports news site Maquina do Esporte.
Helping Brazilian clubs to keep more players at the peak of their careers could be good for Brazilian beer and football alike. “The stronger Brazilian football is, the more moments there are to get together with friends around football, the more beer people will drink,” said Pedro Trengrouse, a UN consultant on the World Cup.
“That relationship between beer and football represents a series of opportunities for the sport.” – Sapa-AFP