Anheuser, baseball renew Budweiser sponsorship

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch Inc, the maker of Budweiser beer, and Major League Baseball announced a multi-year renewal of their sponsorship agreement, averting a possible end to a more than 30-year relationship.

The agreement designates Budweiser as official beer sponsor of Major League Baseball, and resolves pending litigation over the sponsorship, a joint statement released Thursday said. Budweiser already sponsors 26 of the 30 major league teams.

"Major League Baseball has always been a top priority for our Budweiser brand," Mark Wright, an Anheuser marketing vice president, said in a statement. "We value our long-term relationship with the league and are happy to have resolved this issue."

Tim Brosnan, a league executive vice president, said "We have made significant progress with Anheuser-Busch and look forward to working together on planning for the 2011 season."

Anheuser, part of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, had sued Major League Baseball on November 12, accusing it of reneging on a written agreement to renew the sponsorship.

It alleged that Brosnan had 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 in 2011.

Analysts said this change could have pushed MillerCoors, which makes Coors and is the combined U.S. operations of SABMiller Plc Molson Coors Brewing Co, to seek out a new sports sponsorship, perhaps driving up the cost.

Anheuser is the largest U.S. brewer, while MillerCoors ranks second.

Last month, Jim Andrews, senior vice president at IEG LLC, a unit of advertising company WPP Plc, estimated a $10 million annual value for Anheuser's baseball sponsorship rights, excluding advertising and promotion costs that could reach tens of millions of dollars.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Chicago; Editing by Bernard Orr)