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Anheuser-Busch cuts ties with Washington Commanders

Anheuser-Busch ended its partnership with the Washington Commanders but will continue working with 26 other NFL teams. The company declined to provide a reason for the split. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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Anheuser-Busch, the official beer sponsor of the NFL and more than two dozen of its teams, ended its partnership with the Washington Commanders, becoming the third company in the past year to cut ties with the franchise.

In a statement provided to The Washington Post by a company spokesperson, Anheuser-Busch said it decided not to renew its sponsorship of the Commanders “at this time.”

“We remain fully committed to Washington football fans, and we look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with the NFL and our other 26 team partners to create meaningful experiences and connections for fans across the country,” the spokesperson said.

The brewing company announced in December that it reached an agreement to continue its decade-long sponsorship of the NFL, which it held in addition to the team partnerships.

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Anheuser-Busch declined to provide a reason for the split, and it’s unclear whether it has ended relationships with teams in other pro sports leagues.

Through a team spokesperson, the Commanders said they are still looking for a replacement alcohol sponsor for the upcoming season and beyond.

“We’re exploring options in the alcohol category and looking for a strategic partner that will join us in the next era of Washington Football,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch was one of the team’s biggest corporate sponsors with a prominent presence throughout FedEx Field. The company also separately has more than 25 player endorsements with NFL players, including Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke.

Anheuser-Busch’s divorce from the team comes only a month after Medliminal, a medical bill review company based in Northern Virginia, declined to renew its partnership with the team, and less than a year after Inova, a nonprofit health-care provider in Northern Virginia, cut short its partnership with the team.

Medliminal announced its partnership with the team in August 2019, but terms were not disclosed. The company did not respond when contacted about its decision not to renew.

It was announced in 2016 that Inova agreed to a 10-year partnership with the Commanders that included naming rights for its training facility in Ashburn, Va., as well as the sponsorship of media content and team wellness programs. Robin West, a sports medicine and orthopedic surgeon who is now chair of Inova Sports Medicine, also became the team’s director of sports medicine.

But last April, Inova said its physicians, including West, would no longer work with the Commanders to “allow Inova’s orthopedic leadership team to focus on business and growth opportunities.” West is still a team physician for the Washington Nationals.

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Inova also said that its separate sponsorship agreement with the team that included its naming rights deal for the practice facility would end after the 2021 season, five years early. The company’s signage is still scattered throughout the team’s headquarters, though, including the entrance to the facility and on the practice bubble.

“Given the commercial and brand transformation we’re undergoing, we are taking the time to reimagine the naming rights partnership for our practice facility to best capture the significant short-term and long-term opportunities with our brand,” the team spokesperson said.

Over the past two years, the Commanders have struggled on the field and been embroiled in controversy off it, with multiple investigations of their workplace culture and allegations of sexual harassment, a federal probe involving their head athletic trainer and a bitter ownership dispute and a name change.

More than 40 women, most of whom were former Washington employees, detailed to The Post a workplace culture with pervasive sexual harassment and verbal abuse during much of Daniel Snyder’s ownership of the team. The allegations prompted a 10-month investigation by D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson, who presented an oral report of her findings to league Commissioner Roger Goodell and the team but not a written report typical of most NFL investigations.

Last July, the NFL announced the findings and fined the team $10 million. It also required the Commanders to implement changes to their workplace structure and said Snyder would “concentrate on a new stadium plan and other matters” while his wife and recently appointed co-CEO, Tanya Snyder, would take over day-to-day operations.

The lack of a written report prompted an outcry from many former employees who participated in the probe. In October, 10 of them wrote a letter, which was obtained by The Post, to executives of six corporate sponsors of the NFL, including Anheuser-Busch, Nike and Amazon, to “demand transparency” from the league.

“If the League has shown us anything, it is that money, and only money, talks,” the former Washington employees wrote. “We therefore ask that you join us in insisting on transparency and accountability, and in demanding that the NFL make the findings of this investigation public.”

The absence of a written report also sparked the interest of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which launched its own investigation into the team’s workplace culture. In February, a day after the team revealed its new identity as the Commanders, Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing manager and cheerleader for the team, told members of Congress in a roundtable hearing that Daniel Snyder sexually harassed her at a work dinner. Johnston’s allegation, which was not previously shared with the league’s investigators, was quickly denied by Snyder.

The NFL launched a separate investigation, led by Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The league vowed that her findings would be made public at the conclusion of the investigation, which is still ongoing.

A day after the congressional roundtable, two longtime Commanders fans launched the website boycottdan.com to urge corporate sponsors to sever ties to the team. One of the site’s organizers, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity, said supporters of the campaign have sent more than 13,000 emails to team sponsors.

“Anything we could do to put that corporate pressure on Daniel Snyder, I think that’s really the only way that we’ll get change,” she said. “We saw it with the name change. That was inspirational to us.”

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Snyder had said for years that he would never change the team’s name, but pressure from corporate sponsors, including FedEx and Nike, as well as local officials prompted the team to drop its controversial name and begin a lengthy rebranding process.

A spokesperson for Bud Light, an Anheuser-Busch product, said at the time that it was “encouraged” by the team’s decision to retire its old name.

In October, the team’s head athletic trainer, Ryan Vermillion, and one of his assistant athletic trainers Doug Quon were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration related to the possible disbursement of prescription drugs. The DEA searched the team’s facility and Vermillion’s nearby home in October. Both he and Quon remain on administrative leave from the team, which has said it plans to hire a new head athletic trainer.

But even with a new name, new uniforms, even a new quarterback in Carson Wentz, the team’s entanglement in ongoing investigations and scandal has taken a toll.

Fan support has declined in recent years and last season attendance at FedEx Field was among the lowest in the NFL.

The team has pushed for a new stadium and accompanying mixed-used complex, and has whittled its options to five sites across Virginia, Maryland and D.C. But ongoing investigations have created trepidation among some lawmakers.

Liz Clarke contributed.

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