There was so much for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to talk about after winning Super Bowl 50 Sunday night — becoming the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, his rumored retirement — that it seemed a bit odd when he instead started giving big, sloppy kisses to Budweiser, brewed by the world's biggest beer conglomerate.
In the seconds after the game ended, he told a sportscaster, "I'm going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy, I promise you that." Then, early Monday, he told CBS This Morning, "I've had a few Budweisers and it's been a special night."
It wasn't the first time The Sheriff paid homage to the King of Beers: After a playoff win in 2014, when asked if retiring was weighing on his mind, Manning said, "What’s weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth."
The National Football League bans players from officially endorsing alcohol brands. But Anheuser-Busch InBev spokesperson Lisa Weser said Sunday night the Belgian-based beer empire didn't pay Peyton to keep mentioning its brew, adding, "We were surprised and delighted that he did."
But Manning's shilling was still business: He owns a stake of two of the mega-brewer's distributors in his native state of Louisiana, according to trade publication Beer Business Daily.
Companies paid an average of $5 million for 30 seconds of super-saturated airtime during Super Bowl 50, just for a chance to compete with every other company forking over the same cash. Yet Manning flipped the script by delivering Bud one of the game's most valuable marketing goldmines: A sterling endorsement from the mouth of a champion, embedded in the post-game coverage, before all the confetti had even hit the ground.
The Super Bowl is not exactly known for marketing purity. In 1987, after the New York Giants beat the Denver Broncos for Super Bowl XXI, Disney paid quarterback Phil Simms $75,000 to tell the on-field cameras five words: "I'm going to Disney World," a phrase that has been repeated ad nauseam ever since.
But Manning's glowing endorsement, in the age of social media, could prove far more valuable. Apex Marketing Group, a sponsorship research firm, estimated Peyton's Bud love had generated more than $3 million in "brand recognition value" for the multinational beer brand.
The ads also helped Bud dominate social media: People tweeted about Budweiser 265,000 times in the 12 hours after kickoff, data from Amobee Brand Intelligence found — more than the next three most-mentioned brands (T-Mobile, Mountain Dew and Pokemon) combined.
Manning is the NFL's highest-paid endorser, making $12 million a year — twice as much as New England Patriots star Tom Brady — through off-field deals with Buick, DirecTV, Gatorade, Nationwide and Papa John’s Pizza, according to Forbes. That may help explain why, before the game, Manning was seen guzzling Gatorade while sitting near some well-placed cases of delicious Gatorade.
On the field after the win, Manning also tenderly embraced Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, whose pizza chain Manning has shilled for in commercials. Manning also owns 21 franchises around Denver, in the legal-weed state of Colorado: "Pizza business is pretty good out here, believe it or not, due to some recent law changes," he said in 2014.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is used to pouring gobs of money into America's most-watched sports event: In the last decade, it has spent $278 million just on Super Bowl ads, Kantar Media data show. Bud Light is also the official beer sponsor of the NFL — part of Anheuser-Busch InBev's six-year, $1.2 billion deal with the league — and Anheuser-Busch sent 1,200 bottles of Bud to the Broncos' afterparty.
Whether any of this stuff will make people drink more Bud remains to be seen: Bud and Bud Light sales have been slowing for years as drinkers move more toward craft beers. Wall Street, for what it's worth, was not clearly won over by Manning's hugs for Bud. Anheuser-Busch InBev's share price slid more than 2 percent Monday amid a broader stock selloff.
Jeffrey Greenbaum, an advertising attorney at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, said promotional plaudits like those Manning doled out after the big game also have the potential to raise flags with federal regulators.
“Even if a marketer doesn’t require the celebrity to make a statement, if the celebrity has a relationship with the company, that relationship should ordinarily be disclosed," Greenbaum said. "The [Federal Trade Commission] is very concerned that consumers are seeing lots of content out there that appears to be organic, independent content, but that is in fact advertising in disguise."