Armstrong to be beer spokesman

Updated: October 6, 2009, 7:49 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Cycling great Lance Armstrong has inked a deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev to be the spokesman for the company's Michelob Ultra brand of beer.

The seven-time winner of the Tour de France and the brewer announced the three-year deal Tuesday.

Armstrong will appear in two television ads featuring the brand, and his image will be in outdoor, print and in-store advertising and possibly packaging.

Speaking from the company's St. Louis offices, where he had addressed 5,000 distributors, Armstrong said he's not quick to jump on endorsements and tries to limit them because of demands on his time from racing, his family and his other ventures.

He said a pairing with Michelob Ultra fit his lifestyle, which focuses on balance. The beer is marketed for health-minded drinkers.

"The key word is we tried to be authentic," he told The Associated Press. "You don't want to be in a place where you're putting your name or face or likeness in any old thing that comes along and whispers in your ear."

Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is based in Belgium, likewise said Armstrong is the perfect spokesman for Michelob Ultra, a brand that sponsors cycling and running events across the country and is sold as a low-calorie alternative to other beers.

"He's the perfect athlete to connect with adult beer drinkers who lead active lifestyles and also a balanced lifestyle," said marketing vice president Keith Levy, who was in St. Louis with Armstrong.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal is a rare one linking an athlete with an alcohol company. Many sports organizations like the National Football League bar players from signing deals to endorse alcohol brands. Armstrong isn't affected by such a bar.

The pairing makes sense for Michelob and shows Anheuser-Busch InBev's commitment to the brand, said Benj Steinman, publisher of trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights. Sales of Michelob Ultra, which debuted in 2002, are improving after falling in recent years.

"It's a demonstration -- because I'm sure Lance doesn't come inexpensively -- of the seriousness of their intent about the brand," Steinman said. "It's a brand they believe in."

The brand's sales fell less than 1 percent this year. It has a 1.6 share of the beer market, Steinman said.

Anheuser-Busch's best-selling brand, Bud Light, is about 10 times bigger. Sales in the beer industry overall are down 1.5 percent so far this year as consumers cut back on drinking in the recession.

Levy said Anheuser-Busch is boosting its marketing spending for Michelob Ultra at least into next year. The first ad featuring Armstrong, called "Little Bumps," was to start airing next year but could air sooner based on how well they turned out.

It shows Armstrong cycling up a hill as a voiceover says some people see mountains -- or large obstacles -- while others see bumps.

Armstrong survived cancer and won his first of seven straight Tours de France in 1999.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press