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Did Budweiser exploit beer league hockey players in its Super Bowl commercial hit?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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During the Super Bowl this year, Budweiser Canada accomplished something rather rare: Creating a buzz-worthy, emotionally resonating commercial without a single lingerie model or dog doing people things.

The concept was simple: Surprising two rec hockey teams in Port Credit, Ontario, by filling the arena with rabid, ThunderStick-toting, stomach-painted fans for a random night game. The execution made it an instant classic:

Sure, there were a few voices of dissent in the cacophony of praise. Brian from Regular Guy believed Budweiser lifted the idea from Improv Everywhere. That was a quibble.

What the Toronto branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has is an objection with potential financial ramifications for Budweiser and Labatt.

Did the brewing company fail to fairly compensate the beer league players, and the crowd watching them, in its ad?

Here's the press release from Toronto ACTRA last week, explaining why the hockey players featured in the ad deserved compensation:

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According to Tristan Hopper of the National Post, the players who participated in the commercial "are owed at least $3,215.15 each, with an extra $537.85 given to players who appeared in short follow-up interviews, according to the union."

From the Post, Labatt responded:

In a release, Labatt claimed that striking a union agreement ahead of time would have eliminated the surprise. "As anyone who has seen Budweiser's 'Flash Fans' commercial will know, it is much more the filming of a spontaneous event rather than a traditional, scripted television advertisement," said the brewer.

Crowd members, who were recruited from across Southern Ontario, were paid $150 minus a 15% modelling fee (casting calls noted it was a "NON-UNION job"). Under a union contract, members of the crowd likely would have received a cash rate of $11 per hour — although prominent crowd members may have qualified for a "principal performer" fee of $3,753.

Indeed, the extras were aware that this was listed as a non-union gig … which is really something that unions frown upon. Especially when those gigs become viral video sensations.

This complaint smacks of opportunism; the type of blowback from industry unions that you'd typically find aimed at non-scripted television programs.

But ACTRA does bring up a valid point: The players weren't paid, "but they were invited to an exclusive party thrown on Super Bowl Sunday," according to the National Post. Is that enough for being the centerpiece of a multimillion dollar campaign? Were they even aware, post facto, that they could have been entitled to more?

Here's a "making of" video for the commercial:

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