Bud Light, made by Anheuser-Busch, sits on a store shelf on July 27, 2023 in Miami, Florida. Anheuser-Busch InBev announced it will lay off hundreds of corporate employees as its Bud Light beer sales continue to struggle. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


Belgian beer giant turns to UFC after transgender backlash hammers sales


Belgian brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is trying to win back Conservatives by cosying-up to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in a major multi-year sponsor deal.

The beer brand is still bleeding money after offending its own consumer base by allying itself with transgender TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney.

Now, it seemingly wants to make amends by turning to the world’s biggest mixed martial arts organisation, UFC. The UFC is highly popular with Conservatives and AB InBev is hoping it might polish its reputation by sponsoring the fighting organisation.

On January 1, 2024, the brewer will become the exclusive “Official Beer Partner of UFC” in the largest-ever sponsorship promoting the mixed martial arts institution.

“Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light were UFC’s original beer sponsors more than 15 years ago. I’m proud to announce we are back in business together,” UFC CEO Dana White said in a statement on October 24.

“There are many reasons why I chose to go with Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light, most importantly because I feel we are very aligned when it comes to our core values and what the UFC brand stands for.

“I’m looking forward to all of the incredible things we will do in the years ahead,” he said.

AB InBev CEO Brendan Whitworth said in the same press release: “Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light have always been on the cutting edge of iconic sporting moments that fans remember forever, and reuniting with UFC is a continuation of this industry-leading legacy.

“As one of the largest and longest-standing sport sponsors, we are excited to work with UFC to celebrate our passionate fans while always making a positive impact in communities across America.”

The move is part of the company’s ambitions to strengthen the Bud Light brand in the US, where it has been attempting to re-connect the drink with American football and country music rather than to what many saw as “wokeism” and “progressive politics”.

The mega-deal might also help to promote other brands from AB InBev’s broad inventory on a global scale.

Bud Light had been the number one beer in the US for over two decades but when it was decided to partner with trans-identifying activist Mulvaney in an effort to “authentically connect with audiences”, a huge consumer backlash ensued.

The beer brand previously considered a blue-collar American beverage became taboo among Conservatives almost instantly.

Calls to boycott the light beer spread quickly on social media. Rock star Kid Rock even used cans of it for target practice in a post. The entire episode became, in effect, one of the biggest, most succesful boycotts in American consumer history.

At the beginning of the controversy, the brand’s stock plunged and sales also took a nosedive.

AB InBev suffered a $395 million loss in North American revenue in 2023’s second quarter and announced it would lay off 2 per cent of its US workforce – about 350 employees – in July.

The company has tried to distance itself from its initial turn towards trangenderism but to little avail. It also tried to seduce its historical consumer base by producing a patriotic Heart of America advert and Harley Davidson-themed cans, as the motorbike is also seen as an intrinsically American brand.

Still, US consumers have continued their boycott and in September, sales numbers were still down.

White went on Fox News and told American commentator Sean Hannity that his decision to partner up UFC with InBev “was the furthest thing about money”.

“These guys employ 65,000 Americans, thousands of vets they employ. They spend over $700 million a year with US farmers, you know, buying their crops for their product. And there’s many, many other reasons that I did this,” he claimed.

“This is an American company. And I love this country and this is more about me being aligned with somebody who is a sponsor of the UFC and somebody I’m going to work with every day.

“This is more about core values to me than anything else,” White added.

Between 2008 and 2017, AB InBev was the main sponsor of the UFC with Bud Light but then rival Modelo Especial, made by the Constellation Brands brewery, snatched the contract.

Modelo Especial has recently become the most popular beer in the US, replacing Bud Light.