The hype around hard seltzer has made it ubiquitous in bars and at parties across the U.S. in 2019. Now, that is transitioning into the sports world.
In August, Bon & Viv became the official hard seltzer of the NFL, the first of the big five North American professional leagues to sign a deal in the category.
The move comes following the brand’s Super Bowl commercial in February, as parent company AB InBev continues to establish Bon & Viv in the category. Along with putting Bon & Viv in front of a massive market, it’s also an effort to extend the “Summer of Seltzer” into the fall, said Chelsea Phillips, vice president of Beyond Beer Brands at Anheuser-Busch.
Phillips said 60% of the country still hasn’t heard of hard seltzer, so the NFL platform and its TV, signage and distribution opportunities will be significant for the hard seltzer category. The ability to drive awareness to a variety of demographic segments is also important in the partnership, she said.
“It’s continuing to build awareness on a national footprint, matching up the taste profile of people attending or watching football,” Phillips said. “[This is] to introduce the brands, different than Bud Light, which is building experiences. This is purely about introducing.”
The partnership announcement included a video with ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter. Bon & Viv also set up a polygraph test, hooking up 50 people to a lie detector and performing a taste test between its product and White Claw with $1,000 on the line. According to a video released with the announcement, 46 preferred Bon & Viv.
Market research firm Nielsen has projected hard seltzer to become a $1 billion category by the end of the year, and Bon & Viv is currently the third top-selling brand. The top two hard seltzer brands, White Claw and Truly Hard Seltzer, make up approximately 85% of the category.
Along with a full media mix, Phillips said 16-ounce cans will make their way through stadiums. The seltzer “easy-to-drink” taste profile matches up with the sessionable setting of game day and the mass audiences that might normally seek out light beers at football games, Phillips said. The light flavor and low calories are also the reason the beverage category has made such a big splash this summer, she said.
While the NFL deal doesn’t necessarily further legitimize an already large category, it does help align hard seltzer with a market that makes sense, beer journalist Joshua Bernstein said. Bernstein covered hard seltzer for the New York Times and releases his newest book “Drink Better Beer” this month.
Bernstein also noted the companies behind the three largest hard seltzer brands are not small operations-AB InBev owns Bon & Viv, Boston Beer Co. owns Truly and Mark Anthony Brands, which also owns Mike’s Hard, owns White Claw.
“That’s why we saw it immediately in coolers, gas stations, everywhere you go,” he said. “As breweries become broader beverage companies, you’ll see breweries putting out a lot more non-traditional products.”
“As far as these companies are concerned, it doesn’t matter what it is, you’re still contributing to the mothership.”
The deal isn’t the first official hard seltzer deal in pro sports, as Braxton Brewing signed on to be the Cincinnati Bengals’ partner last month with its VIVE Hard Seltzer. Phillips didn’t rule out further local partnerships or partnerships with other leagues for Bon & Viv as the seltzer segment continues its surge.
Bernstein said the Bon & Viv partnership is an extension of Anheuser-Busch’s already strong portfolio of sports sponsorships, but individual stadiums have carved out niches with beverage programs, so localization can still occur like the Bengals deal.
For now, hard seltzer is helping bolster a beer industry that has slowed in recent years, despite the growth of the craft segment.
“Seltzer is a really strong tool to bring people back to the beer aisles,” Phillips said. “We’re looking at those opportunities to leverage that and bridge to people who left or never considered the beer aisle before, use it as a way to welcome them and put our best foot forward.”