Sam Adams Now the Official Beer of the Boston Red Sox

In December, the announcement came from Boston Beer Co. that it signed an agreement to become the official beer of the Boston Red Sox, replacing longtime sponsor Budweiser. It’s an eight year deal and is the first instance of a craft brewer becoming the official beer of a baseball team. It may also be the first instance of a craft brewer becoming the official beer of any American major four (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) professional sports franchise.

This change doesn’t mean that Fenway attendees will no longer be able to buy a Bud Light. As the Boston Globe pointed out, “Under alcohol regulations forbidding so-called pay-to-play arrangements, the Sox and Fenway concessionaire Aramark aren’t allowed to take money from one beer brand in exchange for promoting it over others.” So the Bud taps won’t be replaced by Sam, but the Sam brand will be much, much more prominent on your next trip to Fenway.

Budweiser remains the official beer of Major League Baseball, meaning Boston Beer Co. can’t promote its relationship with the Sox outside of New England.

This is particularly interesting given my recent post about sports advertising and craft beer (which, full disclosure, though not published until last week, was actually written right before this announcement from Boston Beer). In that post, I mentioned that it could make sense for the largest craft brewers to explore sports advertising (but not necessarily through TV ads) regionally. Partnerships and events were two collaborations I found interesting, with potential benefits exceeding TV advertising. This move by Boston Beer brings that type of thinking to fruition.

Could we see more of this?

The most recent data from the Brewers Association (2016 data) shows that the top ten craft brewers (based on beer sales volume) are:

  1. D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc. (Pottsville, PA)
  2. Boston Beer Co. (Boston, MA)
  3. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, CA)
  4. New Belgium Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, CO)
  5. Gambrinus (San Antonio, TX)
  6. Duvel Moortgat (Paso Robles, CA; Kansas City, MO; Cooperstown, NY)
  7. Bell’s Brewery, Inc. (Comstock, MI)
  8. Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR)
  9. Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, CA)
  10. Oskar Blues Brewing Holding Co. (Longmont, CO)

These are ten of the most likely breweries to consider following in the steps of Boston Beer.

Could we see Shiner becoming the official beer of the San Antonio Spurs? Or perhaps Stone becoming the official beer of the San Diego Padres? Maybe Oskar Blues as the official beer of the Colorado Avalanche?

Those ideas seem possible, though not imminently probable. Craft brewers would have to spend a sizable amount to outbid Budweiser or MillerCoors. Boston Beer admitted they’ll be reallocating their marketing spends to make the Red Sox partnership happen. I’ve always thought it would be smaller market teams where we’d first see something like this happen. Places where the brewer and the team hold very distinct emotional attachments to the city/area. Though Boston isn’t a small market, Sam Adams and the Red Sox have that emotional attachment to residents.

Looking at that top ten list, another possibility sticks out in my mind - collegiate sponsorships. Not all colleges will affiliate with alcohol brands, but some have started. Just last year, the University of Houston signed an agreement to make Bud Light the Official Beer of Houston Athletics. New Belgium and Colorado State are both in Fort Collins. Sierra Nevada and Cal State Chico are both in Chico. Deschutes in Bend isn’t far from either Oregon or Oregon State. Could collegiate partnerships be the more likely path for some brewers to take? In some instances it would likely be cheaper than a similar agreement with a professional team.

This is an interesting progression of craft marketing that I’ll be following closely over the next few years.