July 4th, 2008

New Deal Keeps Budweiser Name Before Eyes of Wrigley Visitors

By Jim Kirk
The Chicago Tribune

The Cubs’ future ownership may be up for grabs, but that hasn’t stopped one big sponsor from increasing its presence at the Friendly Confines.

Anheuser-Busch on Thursday signed a new five-year sponsorship pact with the Cubs—a deal that will add naming rights to Wrigley Field’s Batter’s Eye Suite in center field. A-B also will keep its Bud Light Bleachers naming rights intact and be the exclusive beer advertiser around the park.

Terms of the agreement, which also includes a television deal with Cubs’ broadcast outlet WGN-Ch. 9, weren’t disclosed. But the transaction comes at a crucial time: Tribune Co., owner of the Cubs, WGN and this newspaper, is in the early stages of auctioning off the Cubs as part of its deal to help pay down debt from its $8.2 billion going-private transaction late last year.

Key to valuing the franchise and Wrigley, which may be sold separately, is the ability to wring additional revenue from potential sponsorships with the team and around the park. The Cubs in recent months have reached out to several companies, including Oak Brook-based McDonald’s Corp., about naming rights at the historic ballpark. But the prospect of changing the name has drawn flak from fans and critics, and so far there have been no takers.

The Cubs are pursuing other strategies, such as selling multiple in-park “naming rights” deals for areas inside Wrigley. Initial bids for either the Cubs, Wrigley, or the Cubs’ stake in Comcast SportsNet are due this month.

For A-B, the sponsorship is part of its plan to continue to dramatically step up marketing investment in the Chicago market, according to Dave Peacock, its vice president of marketing.

Stymied by the longtime strength of Miller Brewing Co.’s flagship Miller Lite brand here, St. Louis-based A-B has dramatically increased spending on sponsorships of local sports franchises, including the Blackhawks and Bulls. Miller currently owns exclusive marketing rights with the Bears and the White Sox.

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