With the Major League Baseball season half over and pennant drives well underway, fans of the national pastime are not only cheering on their favorite teams this summer, but they’re also celebrating the wide variety of beer options they’re finding at ballparks. Indeed, craft and imported beers are making strides at stadiums and arenas after decades of ballparks acting as strongholds for major domestic brands.
“There’s been a great evolution in recent years,” says Ben Savage, chief marketing officer at Flying Dog Brewery. “As consumers drive demand for craft beer at stadiums, teams and concession operators are reaching out to craft brewers.” Savage compares the widespread availability of the Frederick, Maryland–based brewery’s Snake Dog IPA at Baltimore’s Camden Yards these days to just five years ago, a time marked by the significant presence of multinational brewers at ballparks. He’s optimistic that the practice will grow. “When fans are paying a lot of money for tickets to games, there’s likely going to be demand for craft beer,” Savage says. “And as operations at the ballparks get more comfortable with craft beer, we’re going to see more of it. The barriers are coming down.”
Carlos Bernal, president of concession operator Delaware North Sportservice, notes that craft beer and imports are currently showing the most growth within the beer category. “We would be missing a huge opportunity if we didn’t expand them throughout Sportservice,” he says. “Plus, guests are now looking for or expecting these offerings.” Bernal adds that fan response to the expanded beer selection has been extremely positive and notes that the company has found that a lot of the sales are incremental. “Crafts aren’t taking away from domestic favorites or team partners,” he explains.
Imports are also getting in on the game. Earlier this year, Constellation Brands’ beer division announced that it had reached a multiyear agreement with the Chicago White Sox, naming Modelo Especial as the official imported beer of the ball team. Under terms of the agreement, the fast-growing Mexican brand is promoted with a large billboard-style display at Guaranteed Rate Field, while the Casa Modelo beer bar was added on the left field concourse. Modelo is priced at $8.75 a 12-ounce can and $10.75 a 16-ounce can. Joey Nigro, Delaware North general manager at Guaranteed Rate Field, says “response has been very positive for Modelo.” The brand was also recently named the official import of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team.
Heineken, meanwhile, is strengthening its ties to professional soccer this summer as the presenting sponsor for all International Champions Cup (ICC) matches. Venues playing host to the matches include Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California; MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey; and Nissan Stadium in Nashville. According to Heineken USA, the Dutch brew will be promoted in stadium beer gardens at some of the biggest ICC matches.
Root For The Home Team
In a number of cases, craft breweries are partnering with local teams, expanding availability of their brews and incorporating branding at the ballparks. In what is believed to be a first, the Kansas City Royals named Boulevard Brewing Co. as its “official craft beer” partner earlier this year. The five-year agreement includes wider availability of the Kansas City, Missouri–based brewery’s products at venues throughout Kauffman Stadium, and gives Boulevard the right to use Royals trademarks throughout the team’s six-state television territory.
“We’re delivering to Kansas City Royals fans what they’re looking for at the ballpark and helping to bring new fans to Boulevard,” says vice president of marketing Natalie Gershon. “This partnership is indicative of how much craft beer has grown. It’s becoming a larger part of a concessionaire’s business.” The agreement expands the variety of Boulevard beers available at the park and makes the brewery the presenting sponsor of the Craft & Draft venue. Boulevard is also the sole sponsor of the Backstop Bar near the Diamond Club, a beer garden on the View level and the new Hop Stop stand in right field. In addition, a new sign in the ballpark’s outfield depicts Boulevard’s smokestack logo.
According to the Royals vice president of publicity Toby Cook, the response has been positive. “Boulevard is such a well-regarded operation here in Kansas City,” he says. “With the team’s growth in fan base and Boulevard’s increased presence in our region, it seemed like the perfect time to grow and enhance our partnership.” Cook also notes that the marketing, the signage and all of the assets with this arrangement have increased sales of Boulevard’s products in the stadium. Boulevard beers at Kauffman Stadium—which is serviced by Aramark—are priced at $10.75 a 16-ounce can.
In San Francisco, Anchor Brewing has collaborated with the Giants on a special brew for the second consecutive year. Los Gigantes, a Mexican-style lager, is offered at AT&T Park ($12 a 16-ounce pour) and available off-premise in Northern California, Nevada, Oregon and Hawaii ($8.99 a six-pack of 12-ounce cans; $7.99 a four-pack of 16-ounce cans). According to Anchor Brewing president and CEO Matt Davenport, Los Gigantes had emerged as the top-selling beer at the ballpark’s Anchor beer garden just a few weeks into the 2017 season. “It’s a natural fit,” says Davenport. “The Giants and concession operator Centerplate recognize that it’s important to have unique cuisine and beverage options at a ballpark in a city with a big emphasis on local food and drinks.”
Key To Brand Growth
Delaware North has emerged as a big supporter of local craft brands in cities where it operates ballpark food and drink concessions. Last year, the company unveiled the Great Lakes Brewing Co. beer garden at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. “Fans have responded very favorably,” says Fattar Thomas, general manager for Delaware North at Progressive Field. “They now have a destination where they know they can find some of their favorite locally brewed craft selections.” The stadium also features the Hop Stop stand for offerings from Ohio’s Platform Beer Co., Rhinegeist and Sibling Revelry Brewery and Michigan’s Founders Brewing Co. A beer wall pours 12 different craft brews on draft.
Marissa DeSantis, public relations supervisor at Great Lakes, says six of the brewery’s year-round beers are available at the beer garden, as well as seasonals and limited releases ($6.50 a 12-ounce pour; $12 a 24-ounce pour; $8.75 a 16-ounce can). She notes that brewery reps provide regular draft and brand training to Progressive Field food and drink personnel. “Because the stadium hosts so many traveling fans, it’s one of the only places we’re able to get our beer in front of new customers,” DeSantis explains. The brewery also recently introduced its beers to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena and FirstEnergy Stadium, Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Milwaukee’s Miller Park, and Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field.
Naming Modelo as the official craft beer of the White Sox was just one of the changes made to the beer program at the Chicago ballpark this year. A marketing partnership with Goose Island Beer Co., Pabst Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery and Founders replaced Miller Brewing Co.’s 30-year sponsorship of the team. As such, the former Miller Lite Bullpen sports bar is now a Craft Kave, with some 75 brews available. According to Nigro, the beers are merchandised in double-door coolers by flavor profile. “The foot traffic and business has been very good in the Kave,” he says.
Flying Dog’s beers have been available at Camden Park for about five years. “Delaware North and the Orioles have done a great job in embracing craft beer,” Savage says. The branded Flying Dog grill and Flying Dog Orange bar have been particularly effective in attracting fans of the brews. “Professional ballparks are the places fans go to show off their hometown pride,” Savage says. “Being the hometown beer can be the key to brand growth.”
The benefits of the new partnerships between craft brewers and professional ball teams are even being seen off-premise. Anchor’s Los Gigantes is available at retail chains like Safeway and BevMo, and Davenport notes that the beer has been well received. “It connects the local fan base with Anchor Brewing, which is located just 1.7 miles from AT&T Park,” he explains.
Boulevard’s tie-in with the Royals, meanwhile, includes some new packaging and several promotions. Rob Miller, owner of Goebel Liquor in Wichita, Kansas, says fan enthusiasm has been huge since the Royals won the World Series in 2015. He adds that the redesigned packaging for Boulevard’s KC Pils and Unfiltered Wheat featuring the team’s logo has been well received.
The early inroads made by craft and imported beers at professional ballparks points to even more opportunity. “There is no road map,” says Boulevard’s Gershon. “We’re anxious to see where things go.”