* Anheuser says promotional rights accord breached
* Brewer seeks to block league from signing up rival
* Anheuser says sponsored baseball for over 30 years
(Adds Anheuser-Busch statement)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Nov 12 Anheuser-Busch Inc, the
largest U.S. brewer, sued Major League Baseball, accusing the
league of reneging on an agreement to renew a lucrative and
exclusive sponsorship pact it has held for more than 30 years.
The beer battle surfaced as baseball struggles with the
effects of a weakened economy, including lower television
ratings and sponsor defections. [ID:nN25255566]
In its complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan
on Friday, Anheuser said it entered a fully signed renewal
agreement with baseball in April and even swapped
congratulatory messages with the league about the accord.
But Anheuser said Tim Brosnan, a league executive vice
president, demanded a rights fee "several times" higher after
the maker of Budweiser and Bud Light replaced Coors in May as
official beer sponsor of the National Football League, starting
By the fall, Major League Baseball decided it was not bound
by the April accord and could shop Anheuser's rights to rivals,
the complaint said.
Anheuser is part of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI.BR). It
sponsors 26 of the 30 major league teams and has naming rights
for the St. Louis Cardinals' ballpark in its hometown.
Matt Bourne, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said
the league had not been served with the complaint and its
lawyers have not reviewed it.
Julian Green, a spokesman for MillerCoors -- the combined
U.S. operations of SABMiller Plc SAB.L and Molson Coors
Brewing Co (TAP.N), and the No. 2 U.S. brewer -- also did not
immediately return a call.
"Baseball is trying to make room to negotiate a deal with
MillerCoors," said A.J. Maestas, president of Navigate
Marketing Inc, a sports research and valuation firm in
"Losing the NFL deal increases the motivation for
MillerCoors to find another sports sponsorship," Maestas
continued. "Baseball is a national platform they can use in the
summer, their key selling season."
Anheuser is seeking a court order to enforce the April
accord, which it called "clear, unambiguous, binding, and more
than fair," and to bar baseball from signing up any malt
beverage rival. A renewal would begin with the 2011 season.
"A timely resolution is important," Keith Levy, vice
president of marketing for Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement.
"Major League Baseball remains a top priority for our Budweiser
Jim Andrews, senior vice president at IEG LLC, a unit of
advertising company WPP Plc (WPP.L) that tracks sponsorship
spending, estimated a $10 million annual value for Anheuser's
baseball sponsorship rights.
This excludes the "tens of millions of dollars" that
Anheuser said it spends annually on Major League Baseball
advertising and promotions.
The case is Anheuser-Busch Inc v. Major League Baseball
Properties Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New
York, No. 10-08513.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Ben
Klayman in Detroit and Martinne Geller in New York; editing by
Robert MacMillan, Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon)