Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in Miami marks the first major beer-drinking occasion of 2020.
In 2019, U.S. consumers spent $1.2 billion on beer at off-premise retailers in the two weeks leading up to the game between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, according to market research firm Nielsen. Those sales were roughly flat, though, down 0.5%, compared to 2018.
The Super Bowl is unquestionably a beer dominated occasion. Beer sales last year nearly doubled those of wine ($652 million) and spirits ($568 million) in the same period. Nevertheless, dollar sales of both wine (+3.2%) and spirits (+6.7%) in the weeks leading up to the game increased.
So which beers were people drinking during the Super Bowl? Domestic super premium offerings, such as Michelob Ultra, increased dollar sales 14.5% year over year, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, import beers increased dollar sales 3.9%, while domestic premium dollar sales decreased 5.9%. As for craft, dollar sales were roughly flat (-0.4%).
During the two weeks leading up to last year’s game, hard seltzer dollar sales hit $21.9 million, an increase of nearly 250% over the same period in 2018, according to Nielsen.
In the home cities of last year’s Super Bowl teams, sales spiked even higher. Depletions (sales to retailers) in the Boston and Los Angeles markets grew 19% and 21%, respectively, National Beer Wholesalers Association chief economist Lester Jones shared during a webinar recapping 2019 beer sales last week.
Boston-based on-demand alcohol delivery platform Drizly reported that Bostonians spent 44% more on Super Bowl Sunday in 2019. Beer accounted for 42% of those orders, followed by wine at 32% and spirits at 25%, Drizly head of consumer insight Liz Paquette shared with Brewbound. In Los Angeles, Drizly orders only spiked 7%, and half of all orders placed were for spirits.
Nationwide, Drizly orders on Super Bowl Sunday increased 54% over the previous four Sundays. Within these orders, beer sales increased 63% compared to total February 2019 sales, while both wine (-19%) and spirits (-8%) declined relative to the rest of the month.
Meanwhile, consumer insights firm Social Standards reported that beer was the topic of 57% of online conversations about alcoholic beverages and the Super Bowl. The firm found that beer is mentioned at twice the rate of other categories.
The social conversation around hard seltzer was just beginning to pick up, and the Super Bowl was no different.
“While it’s not as big a player as beer, in 2019 hard seltzer started to gain real traction within Super Bowl conversations. The significance of hard seltzer’s association with the Super Bowl was 4.5 times greater than of the average BevAl topic, mostly thanks to White Claw,” Social Standards CEO and co-founder Devon Bergman told Brewbound.
This year, with the launch of Bud Light Seltzer and a Super Bowl commercial on deck, those conversations are likely to increase.
“Even though the Super Bowl hasn’t happened yet, we’re already seeing that mentions of hard seltzer alongside the Super Bowl have tripled in 2020,” Bergman added. “That kind of rise in social conversations can often be a leading indicator of what we’ll eventually see in terms of sales.”
Predictably, the millions spent by A-B on ads increased the number of conversations around its brands. Notably, Budweiser dominated last year’s social conversations.
“BevAl conversations about the 2019 Super Bowl are pretty much what you’d expect: Budweiser dominated,” Bergman said. “ABI’s massive ad investment paid off with mentions in over 7% of Super Bowl conversations, more than three times the mentions of its competitors.”
This year, the NBWA anticipates millions of cases of beer will be delivered to licensed retailers in advance of gameday.
“Super Bowl LIII was an incredibly busy time for beer distributors, and we expect LIV to be no different,” the NBWA’s Jones said in a press release.
As consumers stock up for their celebrations, the largest beer manufacturers are spending millions of dollars on ads to capture viewers’ attention during breaks in the on-field action.
Super Bowl LIV marks Anheuser-Busch’s 40th year as an official sponsor of the big game, and the world’s largest beer manufacturer will run four 60-second commercials for its Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Pure Gold brands.
Those spots come at a premium, with Fox charging at least $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, with some spots going for $5.6 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A-B’s four nationally aired spots are star-studded, with appearances from celebrities and athletes such as Post Malone, Jimmy Fallon, John Cena, Usain Bolt, Brooks Koepka and Kerri Walsh Jennings.
A-B engaged consumers in the selection process for this year’s Bud Light commercial, allowing drinkers to vote on social media for a Bud Light Seltzer commercial featuring rapper Post Malone. Both take place inside the musician’s mind as he encounters Bud Light Seltzer for the first time. In one spot, Post Malone internal monologue argues on whether to buy a case of Bud Light beer or a case of the new seltzer.
In the other spot, Post Malone orders a mango-flavored Bud Light Seltzer at a bar.
The winner will air during the Super Bowl’s third quarter.
A-B’s fast-growing Michelob Ultra ad maintains the brand’s position as an active lifestyle offering. The fitness-focused commercial called “Jimmy Works It Out,” features Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon working out with WWE star John Cena, Olympic gold medalist sprinter Usain Bolt, pro golfer Brooks Koepka and pro beach volleyball star and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
As for Michelob Ultra line extension Gold, A-B will tout the brand’s organic pedigree in a spot that promotes its “6 for 6-Pack” campaign, which donates money to farmers to help convert their land to organic farmland.
Finally, for the flagship Budweiser brand, which has seen its sales decline in recent years, A-B tapped Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow to create “Typical American,” in which ordinary people perform “extraordinary actions,” the company said in a release.
As the official beer sponsor of the Super Bowl, A-B maintains exclusivity over national ad space for beer ads. However, Molson Coors Beverage Company and the Boston Beer Company have both purchased regional ads to run in select markets.
Molson Coors isn’t spending behind its flagship Miller Lite and Coors Light brands, or even its top-selling craft offering, Blue Moon. Instead, the company will push its Michelob Ultra challenger, Saint Archer Gold, in more than 70 markets. According to the company, this marks its biggest Super Bowl ad buy since 2009.
The ad, titled “Patience,” features Saint Archer co-founder and professional skateboarder Paul Rodriguez, who whistles Guns N Roses’ “Patience” as he skates from store to store, bypassing stacks of Michelob Ultra, in search of Saint Archer Gold, which is sold out in several stores before he eventually finds a 12-pack.
In another sign of the times, Boston Beer Company won’t promote its Samuel Adams brand, but will feature its big bet for 2020, Truly Lemonade, in spots that will air in major markets such as Boston, New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco.
Watch the Truly Lemonade ad here.
In Super Bowl host city Miami, Truly Hard Seltzer will participate as the “hard seltzer of choice” at several post-game post-game parties, according to a press release.
At least one small craft brewer is also trying to spread its message during the game. Spokane, Washington-based craft brewery No-Li Brewhouse will run a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl broadcast in eastern Washington and western Idaho that highlights the century-old connection of owner John Bryant and his family to the brewery’s hometown.
“A hundred years ago, our family immigrated from Naples, Italy and ran a produce cart, selling vegetables to the men and women who built this city,” the commercial’s narrator said. “And ever since, we’ve done our best to show what it means to be born and raised.”
Watch No-Li’s ad here.