When I used to live in Cincinnati and attend UC football games, Nippert Stadium was one of the few college sport venues in America to sell beer. For once, Cin City was progressive. Today, selling and promoting beer at colleges is big business. While Anheuser-Busch is perhaps rethinking its sports sponsorship strategies (Joao Chueiri, VP of consumer connections at Anheuser-Busch InBev, is toying with other marketing tech), Anheuser-Busch has had sponsorship deals with everyone from the University of Iowa to Texas A&M. According to this SportsBusiness Journal article:
ABI now owns the marketing rights at close to 60 colleges, where its Bud Light brand is typically promoted. At the 40 schools where MillerCoors has bought marketing rights in the last five years, the company mostly hawks the Coors Light brand.
Big brands from Corona to Dos Equis have notched big college sports sponsorship deals in the last few years, and lately we’ve been noticing craft breweries starting to get into the (um) game. Earlier this month, Squatters Craft Beer and Wasatch Brewery (both owned by Utah Brewers Cooperative) became corporate partners of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournaments. From our previous story:
According to Amy Tangaro at Squatters and Wasatch, “This is new territory for our brands, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to be involved with such a reputable conference as the Mountain West. Without question, the drinking responsibly message is always important to promote, and we are thrilled to leverage that initiative in conjunction with the conference.”
That’s clever: Tie your message in with responsible drinking — especially with families and young folks around.
Who else is the proverbial game? In 2016, New Belgium Brewing Co. announced it had acquired the naming rights to the north end zone hospitality area at Colorado State University’s (CSU’s) now newish stadium. While not technically a craft beer (by the Brewers Association definition), Kona Brewing Co. just announced it is the official beer sponsor of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in Hawaii. It also just launched its March to Maui sweepstakes, offering to fly folks out to attend the three-day basketball tournament for free this November 19-21. Craft Brew Alliance owns that Kona brand, and one of CBA’s other brands, Redhook Brewery, is the official craft beer of University of Washington Athletics.
It’s not just colleges, of course. We’ve seen a lot of craft beer sponsorships in Major League Soccer. Last year, Sam Adams became the official beer of the Boston Red Sox. Yuengling is the sponsor of Philadelphia Flyers games at Wells Fargo Center. Oskar Blues was a NASCAR sponsor. These types of marketing opportunities can be a great localized sales pitches, showcasing the entrepreneurial spirit of your community. And while giant pro league sports sponsorships might not be possible with your craft brewery’s marketing budget, local college sports teams might be an interesting place to start. In fact, it can be linked with job recruitment. New Belgium and CSU have enjoyed a long-standing partnership and, in 2015, the brewery donated a $1 million gift to renovate facilities utilized by CSU’s Fermentation Science and Technology program.
The beer/sponsorship combo trend is growing among colleges, as more and more houses of higher learning look for new revenue streams and new ways to attract more people to games and events. According to this article from last year:
SportsBusiness Journal research counts 36 colleges that will sell beer in their on-campus stadiums, and another 14 more that pour at off-campus venues.
That number is crazy. If you compare it to the Big Beer sponsorship deal numbers above, beer brands are being promoted at stadiums and events that don’t even sell beer. Soon, those sales barriers will be tumbling, which should make for some interesting opportunities for craft brewers. Plus, beer, like pretty much everything else, is a young person’s game. According to our previous study, 58 percent of craft beer drinkers are younger than 35. According to this rundown of drinker demographics by the Brewers Association, young women (21-34) now over-index on craft beer, accounting for 15 percent of total craft volume, and Millennials continue to account for a majority of weekly craft beer drinkers.