Football World Cup 2022: Why high-rollers will still be drinking beer in stadiums

Qatar has banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums two days before the opening game. AP

For a price, there will be plenty of Champagne, whiskey, vodka and even sommelier-selected wines available for fans at World Cup stadiums in Qatar.

And beer, too, for this exclusive group of high rollers.

At a cost of US$3,000 (NZ$4872) per ticket, fans will be able to enjoy high-end alcoholic drinks and fine food in the luxurious hospitality lounges, suites and restaurants at the eight stadiums built and renovated for football’s biggest event.

For US$950 per person, clients of long-time Fifa partner Match Hospitality will be served wine, beer and “street food on the move” in a tented village next to the stadium.

“Precisely the kind of experience that people would expect in a fine restaurant, or in a sports bar,” Match executive chairman Jaime Byrom told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

That is going to be a far different experience from regular fans at the tournament, which starts Monday when the host country faces Ecuador in the opening match, because Qatar decided on Saturday to ban beer sales at the stadiums.

The beer policy finally agreed to in September was changed at almost the last minute by the conservative Islamic nation, where access to alcohol is strictly limited. Only alcohol-free Bud Zero will be sold inside the stadium grounds at the 64 games.

It was a stunning reversal — and a potential breach of contract — for Budweiser’s parent company, AB InBev, and a brand that has been served at the World Cup for 36 years.

The company said in a statement it was “circumstances beyond our control.”

Qatar’s late move in its much scrutinized, often criticized 12-year preparation to stage the World Cup won’t have an effect on the luxury end of the supporters’ market, however. Every customer of Match Hospitality — 250,000 tickets have been sold since February 2021 — can still be served drinks with alcohol as promised.

Spirits are added to wine and beer in the “Pavilion” category, which costs at least US$1,900. Champagne and cocktails join the drinks menu in the US$3,050 “Business” class.

The height of luxury is the Pearl Lounge, with seats at the halfway line in Lusail Stadium — the venue that will host the final and nine other matches. Prices start at US$4,950 and come with “mixologists, Champagne selection, sommeliers, and premium spirits.”

“Pearl Lounge exudes old-world grandeur and glamour, like the symbol from which it takes its name,” Match’s sales pitch says.

It has all added up to record sales for Match, which is providing hospitality at its fourth World Cup — although the Byrom family which runs the company has worked with Fifa since the 1980s.

“Our program has been far more successful than we could have hoped for,” Byrom told the AP in the telephone interview, singling out his home country of Mexico as the biggest market.

Being able to serve alcohol discreetly but without limitations in Qatar was a given when Match renewed with Fifa in 2011. That was the year after Fifa picked Qatar as host, and at about the same time AB InBev re-upped.

“We expected to be able to provide the full hospitality service. We were not the only commercial agreement Fifa entered into where alcohol is a feature of the agreement,” Byrom said.

Match agreed in 2011 to pay Fifa a guaranteed US$300 million plus a share of profits to cover all of its tournaments for eight years from 2015-23. That is at least double what Fifa should earn from the Budweiser sponsorship over the same period, and Byrom suggested Qatar was aware of its obligations to honor commercial deals even before it won hosting rights.

“It is important to remember that the entire bid process of Fifa World Cup is designed to deliver the kind of World Cup experience that all fans from around the world have a reason to expect and to look forward to,” he said.

Match has also tailored its service to the cultural sensitivities of the Middle East. Separate lounge areas have been created for families and people who do not drink alcohol.

“That’s obviously a very simple step that has been popular among our customers,” Byrom said. “If we continue to be the rights holder for the next World Cup, that is something we would certainly carry forward to ’26.”

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