ST. LOUIS — The Budweiser Clydesdales are still available for appearances ... at a cost.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday that Anheuser-Busch has quietly begun charging $2,000 per day for Clydesdale appearances. This is ends the brewery's long practice of absorbing nearly all of the cost of showcasing the iconic horses.
The brewery said the fee helps to offset the $8,000-per-day cost of putting a hitch team on the road. Until now, event organizers or beer wholesalers were asked to pay nominal costs for stabling and feed.
Brewery marketing vice president Keith Levy said the fee should not reduce the number of events for the Clydesdales because demand is far greater than the number of available dates.
"They'll still be extremely visible, as visible as they ever were," he said.
The horses have been a part of company lore since 1933, when a team of Clydesdales delivered the first post-Prohibition beer brewed in St. Louis. They have appeared in two presidential inaugural parades and make more than 900 appearances at 200 different events each year — parades, festivals, rodeos and air shows. They were to be part of the Cardinals' home-opener at Busch Stadium on Monday.
Hitch teams consist of eight horses pulling the red Budweiser beer cart. The teams travel the country for months at a time.
Levy said the fee is not aimed at generating revenue. Anheuser-Busch still pays the bulk of the cost.
Nevertheless, the price is still too high for small events.
The Clydesdales might not make a return visit to next year's St. Patrick's Parade in Atlanta. For 2010, the nonprofit that organizes the 128-year-old event and a local beer distributor divided the cost of paying for stable space, feed and overnight security for the horses. But Nancy Logue, president of the nonprofit, doubts the Clydesdales will be back next year due to the new fee.
"In this economy, it's tough," Logue said.
Others said they will find a way to pay the cost. Old Town entertainment complex in Kissimmee, Fla., expects to find the money to have the Clydesdales return.
"We love them. It's definitely something we would consider," special event manager Tracy Parkinson said. "The Clydesdales are very, very popular."
The brewery has 250 Clydesdales. Their handling has become especially sensitive since 2008, when the Belgium beer-maker InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch, making the St. Louis-based operation a subsidiary.
The merger agreement requires the combined company to continue to support the Clydesdales operations.
Anheuser-Busch has made some changes to its Clydesdale program since the merger. Last year, it closed its breeding center in California and opened a large new breeding farm in Boonville. The company has also consolidated hitch teams spread across the country to just three locations: St. Louis, Boonville and Merrimack, N.H.