Anheuser-Busch Finds Middle Ground on NFL Protests While Wholesaler Takes Stand

Austin Ray
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THE GIST
As more and and more NFL players protest systemic violence against minorities by kneeling during pre-game performances of the National Anthem, more and more fans believing such protests disrespect the flag and military are vowing to boycott the league. In turn, the ongoing controversy has reached the inevitable point of league sponsors being compelled to weigh in on the matter. For its part, Anheuser-Busch, official beer sponsor of the NFL, offered a response that sought not to agitate either side. However, the megabrewer’s tightrope act also served to highlight an apparent rift between the company line and tangible action taken by one of its wholesalers.

WHY IT MATTERS
Unsurprisingly, AB itself, which has long been tied to the league, treaded carefully in response to the inquiry, pledging its respect to both the military and free speech (something a number of veterans have also done), noting that they served in part to protect the free speech that the flag itself represents. Its statement, obtained by The New York Times, reads in full:

“At Anheuser-Busch we have a long heritage of supporting the institutions and values that have made America so strong. That includes our armed forces and the national anthem as well as diversity, equality and freedom of speech. We proudly employ over 1,100 military veterans and we work every day to create an inclusive environment for all of our employees. Because only together can we achieve our dream of bringing people together for a better world.” 

Furthermore, the company confirmed it would not be severing its relationship with the league. But at least one of the company’s wholesaler operations has competing thoughts on the matter.

Schilling Distributing of Lafayette, LA, which has been “locally Veteran-Owned through three generations since 1950,” has taken it upon itself to pull all Bud Light point of sale material that features any mark relating to the NFL or New Orleans Saints, as reported by the Acadiana Advocate.

“With all the negative attention the NFL is receiving right now due to these protests, we do not feel it is appropriate to associate our brand with them in the marketplace at this time,” says Charles Schilling, vice president of Schilling, in a statement. “These sponsorship deals are made at a national level, and while Bud Light has been an official partner of the NFL and New Orleans Saints for years, there is no need for us to ask our retailer partners to promote such controversial organizations to help sell product.”

The company, which was founded in 1950 but only began selling any products outside of AB’s portfolio in 2008, according to its website, goes on to ensure the decision was made locally and its own actions do not “in any way reflect the views of Anheuser-Busch.” Instead, then, Schilling says it will shift its focus toward disseminating different POS materials, “featuring such messages as ‘Proud to Serve Those Who Serve’ and ‘This Bud’s for You, Louisiana.’” 

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what’s still to come of these protests, peoples’ reactions to them, and how ostensibly—but, of course, not really—apolitical organizations balance their business priorities and the bottom line against any new demands for their moral guidance when all sides are watching. Ultimately, this increasingly means more situations where they can please no one none of the time.

—Dave Eisenberg