The Atlanta Hawks have been named Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “NBA Partner of the Year,” team executives tell Brewbound.
The difference maker for the Hawks: an in-arena activation with rap superstar Big Boi, who was featured on limited edition 25 oz. Budweiser cans sold within the Atlanta market and at the team’s home arena, State Farm Arena.
As part of the activation, the Hawks transformed two courtside seats into fur-covered Budweiser thrones, giving the seat holders buckets of Bud beers emblazoned with the likeness of the OutKast star throughout 34 regular season home games (shortened from 41 games due to the pandemic).
The seats, which couldn’t be purchased, often were awarded to random 21-and-up fans or rappers, musicians, athletes and influencers, including Lil Baby, 2 Chainz, Swae Lee, Lil Durk, G Herbo, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and Sky Blue FC star Mallory Pugh, among others.
Those celebrities helped the Budweiser brand draw more than 417.3 million total earned and owned impressions. On the Hawks’ social media channels, Budweiser received 522,000 engagements and more than 7.2 million impressions. During Hawks games, the Budweiser brand received more than 20 hours of total broadcast air time and more than 9,500 unique TV exposures.
Speaking to Brewbound, Hawks Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Saltzman said the partnership with A-B — and in turn, Big Boi — was a natural fit.
“Big Boi is Atlanta,” he said. “Big Boi is a huge Hawks fan. So when they created that partnership with Big Boi to put them on cans, what we did was — we like to say that was the flashlight and we were the batteries — and we can really activate that and build a unique platform that not only celebrated Big Boi but Atlanta, and the city’s cool factor.”
Saltzman credited the team’s strategy of going “deeper with fewer partners” in an effort to build “marketing centric” partnerships, following a $200 million-plus rennovation of the Hawks’ home arena, which debuted in October 2018. A-B was one of those key partners.
“Certainly it was about real estate and building in bars and clubs and all that, but what was exciting for us was how could we take that and activate with them, understanding that their business continues to evolve with new products and new themes,” Saltzman said.
As part of the Hawks’ partnership with A-B, the world’s largest beer manufacturer “owns” the northwest corners of the arena, which features a permanent bowl facing static sign, two bars on the 100 and 200 levels and a Michelob Ultra branded bar within the “Top Golf Swing Suites.”
Beyond in-arena activations, the Hawks held on-premise watch party events at bars selected by A-B during road games, as well as appearances by players, team ambassadors and dancers.
As the NBA season tips off tonight, Saltzman said the Hawks will take a “phased approach” to allowing fans into the stands. Attendance at early season games will be limited to friends and family, with plans to open the arena to as many as 1,900 fans for the team’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day game on January 18.
Until then, Saltzman said the team will treat its arena like a television studio, with the installation of a 130-foot digital “spectacular” behind the benches as a way of interacting with fans at home and supporting sponsors.
For Saltzman, it’s all about creating a “great experience,” which this season will be built around the Michelob Ultra brand. A-B shifted its NBA partnership to the fast-growing, super premium brand when the league resumed last July in the Orlando “bubble.” But the furry thrones, they won’t return after the one-season activation.