Stadiums & Craft Beer

The recent announcement that the Toronto Blue Jays’ home – Rogers Centre – would enter the 2014 season with the dubious honour of being the only Major League Baseball stadium not offering any craft beer got me thinking about the crossroad between Canadian sport, and beer.

As a country, I think it’s safe to say we are known for our love of beer. Ask someone what comes to mind when they think of Canada, and beer is likely right up there with Mounties, moose, & snow. Despite this, our pro sports teams seem to have a decidedly cool approach to beer. Sure, you’ll find “beer” at every CFL, NHL, NBA & MLB stadium and arena in Canada, no question. But will you find beer that represents Canada? Or, more appropriately: that represents the team’s region? The area its fans call home? Not likely.

Yes, Molson, Labatts & Sleeman all have long & storied connection to Canada, but none of them are Canadian. They are all owned by foreign conglomerates (Molson-Coors; AB InBev; and Saporro, respectively). This isn’t to say that they have no place in our sports facilities – they do… just as local craft beers should.

The deal Aramark, Rogers Centre & the Blue Jays struck with AB InBev is hopefully a one-off. An odd anomaly in a sea of professional sports teams across the United States going out of their way to offer true craft beer in their facilities:

  • in craft beer-crazy Seattle, MLB’s Mariners play in a stadium where 70% of the draft taps are craft beer;
  • the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats created a craft beer garden at the Time Warner Arena featuring nine North Carolina craft breweries); and
  • several NFL Stadiums have fully embraced craft beer (Reliant Stadium in Houston; Ford Field in Detroit; and CenturyLink Field in Seattle are stand-out examples of stadiums with exceptional craft beer selection)

SteamWhistle_logo_smThe frustrating fact is that the Blue Jays didn’t even give their partnership with Steam Whistle a chance – they opted
not to renew it after only one season (granted, they grudgingly signed the deal after it was noted in 2013 that they were the only MLB stadium without craft beer). The decision is especially odd, given Steam Whistle’s proximity to Rogers Centre – literally within the stadium’s shadow.

So what’s the deal in Canada? Granted, our craft beer scene isn’t nearly as mature as that in the US, but to find a true craft beer (not a macro beer marketed as a craft beer) at a Canadian stadium or arena is rarer than it should be.

Thankfully, we appear to have an excellent beachhead in the CFL’s Ottawa REDBLACKS. Their home stadium – TD Place – signed a deal with AB InBev (Labatt) which explicitly allows local craft beer to be served at the stadium.

The real point of this post…

The Saskatchewan Roughriders & City of Regina would be wise to consider the situation at TD Place as they design Regina’s new $278 million stadium, and negotiate deals with service providers.

ThSaskatchewan_Roughriders_1985_Logoe Riders are a community-owned team. They encourage their players to become active members of the community. The team gives back to the community in a variety of ways. Giving back to local and regional entrepreneurs fits with the Roughriders’ community-focused mandate.

In addition to well established craft brewers such as Regina’s Bushwakker, and Saskatoon’s Paddock Wood, Saskatchewan has seen an explosion of Craft Brewers in the past year – at least 3 new breweries opening in 2013 (District BrewingPrairie Sun, & Bin Brewing), with at least 2 more to come in 2014 (Black Bridge Brewery & Rebellion Brewing). These breweries are owned locally. They are a part of the RiderNation.

The Roughriders are in a unique negotiating position: as one of the top sports brands in Canada, they are in the power position when negotiating with Canada’s big foreign-owned breweries. The Riders can set the terms. These breweries are salavating to get a piece of the marketing machine that is the Saskatchewan Roughriders (only the Toronto Maple Leafs & the Montreal Canadiens sell more merchandise than the Riders… in fact, the Riders account for 70% of the CFL’s merchandise sales). We can use this fact to stand up for our regional beers & breweries.

Does this mean shutting out a macro-brewery like Molson or Labatt? Absolutely not. As demonstrated by the Ottawa REDBLACKS, craft beer & mass-produced beer can co-exist.

As a matter of fact, experience in the US is showing that craft beer is driving sales volume up, as well as a disproportionate spike in revenue.

Of course, all the theory in the world may not matter if the fans don’t support local craft beer options – it comes down to basic dollars and cents. We’ll never know if we don’t try: given the solid financial position the Riders are in, the growing community of craft brewers in Saskatchewan, and the opportunity a new stadium presents, there hasn’t been a better time in Rider history to take a strategic risk & support their community’s entrepreneurs at the same time.

If the US experience plays out in Canada, it would be good for RiderNation. It would be good for the Roughriders’ bottom line. And it would be great for our regional craft brewers.