| Take Me Out To The Ball Game
by Fritz Hahn
When April rolls around there's only one thing that comes to mind for millions of American sports fans -
baseball. And when many of those folks think of baseball they also think of beer. For more than a
century, baseball and beer drinking have been intertwined as two great American pastimes. In the late
19th century, the St. Louis Browns’ Sportsman’s Park featured a beer garden in the outfield, a feature
that foreshadowed many of today’s ballpark amenities. But beer and baseball go deeper than
refreshment in the bleachers: There was often a strong tie to a team’s local brewery. When Baltimore
Orioles fans heard play-by-play announcer Chuck Thompson exclaim, “Ain’t the beer cold!” after a home
run or rally, they knew it was time to crack open a National Bohemian. (Jerold Hoffberger was an owner
of the team as well as the owner of the National Brewing Co.)
Rhode Island’s Narragansett became sponsors of the Red Sox during World War II, and the relationship
lasted through 1975. Narragansett estimates that during that time it sold 6 million beers at Fenway Park.
And Anheuser Busch’s long-standing ties to the St. Louis Cardinals, including ownership of the team
from 1953 to 1996 and the current naming rights to Busch Stadium through at least 2025, remain the
gold standard when talking about the relationship between a brewery and a team as inseparable
institutions, even as Budweiser grew to the international Goliath that it is today.
But as the U.S. beer market began to contract, with fewer than 100 breweries operating across the
country by the late ’70s, the big national brands took over baseball. Budweiser became the official beer
sponsor of Major League Baseball in 1980, a position it will retain through at least 2018, while Miller Lite
began showing ads featuring Bob Uecker, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.
Today, as craft beer sales rise and domestic macrobrews continue to lose market share, some
ballparks offer in-house bars branded with the names of local craft beers: Anchor Plaza and Taproom
at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the Great Lakes Brewing bar at Cleveland’s Progressive Field or the
Flying Dog Grill at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But more often than not, beer-loving fans face an
illusion of choice, as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are the official beer sponsors of most teams.
While Nationals Park sells local brews from the District Drafts carts, most space goes to AB-InBev
products, such as Goose Island and Shock Top. (A notable exception is Seattle’s Safeco Field, where
stands offer sour beers, cask ales and dozens of craft choices.)
As Opening Day approaches, however, there’s some good news: The Kansas City Royals have named
Boulevard Brewing their official craft beer partner. According to Major League Baseball, it’s the first time
a team has had an official craft beer.
“It’s really a relationship that has come into its own,” says Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president for
publicity. Boulevard beer has been served at Kauffman Stadium since the mid-’90s, well before the
Kansas City brewery grew into one of the largest craft breweries in the country. Boulevard has been a
partner of the team since 2012, albeit on a lower level; in 2015, the Royals opened “Craft and Draft
featuring Boulevard Brewing Company,” a bar inside the stadium serving more than 75 beers. The
Royals’ long-standing partnership with Anheuser-Busch expired this year.
One of the biggest advantages of being an official partner, says Boulevard’s vice president for
marketing, Natalie Gershon, is that the brewery will be able to use the Royals’ logo on bottles of its KC
Pils and Unfiltered Wheat Beer throughout the Royals’ television market in the Midwest, which stretches
from Iowa south to Arkansas, including all of Kansas.
Boulevard is also owned by the Belgian brewery Duvel Moortgat, which owns Ommegang and Firestone
Walker. A major league sponsorship deal might make sense for another super-regional brewer but it’s
out of the budget of all but a select few craft brewers.
sent in by Al Cranston
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