November 12, 2010
Anheuser-Busch would like a word with Major League Baseball. That word appears to be "lawsuit."
The makers of Budweiser (among many other adult beverages) claim MLB reneged on an agreement reached back in April to renew its 30-year sponsorship. Just weeks after striking the deal, MLB demanded to renegotiate the terms, asking for an "exponentially higher rights fee," according to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
"A change in marketplace dynamics" was the reason for the higher rights fee demand, a report in The Wall Street Journal says. In non-legalese, that means "mo' money."
From the WSJ:
"We are excited about the extension of this amazing partnership. Congratulations partner!!," an MLB Properties marketing executive allegedly said in an April 22 fax regarding the agreement, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit asserts that MLB wanted to renegotiate in May after Anheuser-Busch reached a separate agreement with the NFL in which Bud Light would become the official beer sponsor of that league.
The exact terms of the original deal between Anheuser-Busch and MLB aren't known, but the New York Post reports that the agreement with the NFL is worth $1.2 billion over six years. MLB saw those numbers and apparently felt slighted. Baseball wanted a new deal, either with Anheuser-Busch or another brewer willing to hand over more advertising cash.
But Anheuser-Busch is owned by the Belgians now. And you don't mess with the Belgians. They will take you to court. The lawsuit wants to keep the original agreement in place and also prevent MLB from negotiating other deals with the competition.
MLB says its version of the story is different from Anheuser-Busch's, though it won't offer up any more comment than that.
Currently, Anheuser-Busch individually sponsors 26 of the 30 major league baseball teams. The exceptions: Miller sponsors the Milwaukee Brewers, who play in Miller Park, and the Chicago White Sox. The Colorado Rockies, who play at Coors Field, are sponsored by Coors. Labatt sponsors the Toronto Blue Jays.
Were the beer makers less than up front about how much money they could pay? Did they give the impression the NFL would receive much less in its sponsorship deal? Or did MLB simply get jealous when it saw how much more Anheuser-Busch paid the NFL?
Who's being needy and who's being greedy? It sounds like what these two sides need to do is meet for a beer summit.
However the suit is resolved, fans can probably rest assured: Beer prices at the ballpark aren't going to drop because of this.