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Soccer Marketing 101: Inside Boulevard Brewing’s Partnership with Sporting KC (INTERVIEW)

On the eve of the 2012 Major League Soccer season, to the delight of craft beer and American soccer fans in Kansas City, Boulevard Brewing Company and Sporting KC announced the launch of their marketing partnership, “Hometown Team, Hometown Beer”. Boulevard, the nation's tenth largest craft brewery, would now be served in one of the United State's best soccer-specific stadium and a host of co-branded opportunities would soon roll out between the two.

Last week, we stopped in at Boulevard Brewing to chat with their Director of Marketing, Jeremy Rogonese, who explained the evolution of the marketing partnership from its earliest days, what sort of initiatives Sporting and Boulevard have done and plan on doing, the similarities between soccer fans and craft beer lovers, and the coolness that are keg backpacks.

Free Beer Movement: Talk about your first experience with American soccer.

Jeremy Rogonese: My first experience was, actually, a friend inviting me to a game. Years ago when the Wizards were playing at Arrowhead. I was blown away then and the fervor hadn’t even reached its pitch that it is now. It was a great experience and a learned a little about the game and gained an appreciation.

FBM: How did the marketing partnership come about?

JR: The re-brand came and even before then we had been approached by OnGoal (Sporting KC’s ownership group). We have known a number of members of the ownership group that were big fans of the brewery and big fans or supporting local businesses. They started meeting with us early saying “we want you to be a part of the experience. We know how important being local is and having that connection.”

We’ve had a great on-going discussion with them. They re-branded with Sporting KC and just took off from there. It was an amazing experience to be in Kansas City, to be in marketing, and to see what was happening with the organization at the time.

There was a period of time when LIVESTRONG was built and we were touring the stadium, we were talking about sponsorships, but it wasn’t going to work out at the time. Because of the size of our brewery and the amount of sponsorship dollars they were able to generate it just wasn’t really in the cards for us to be a partner from the very beginning.

I credit them for coming back to us with new ideas, a new approach, and a new way of think about how our relationship could benefit each other. They would have our beers available at their stadium, but that we also could work together on a true marketing partnership to try and share the message of both our brands and how we can align.

It became “hometown team, hometown beer” and that was a brand new thing for us. That was a new thing for us; we had never had the ability to use the “marks” (team’s logos, etc) of a professional team in Kansas City or to really partner with them to try and win new fans.

FBM: What does the partnership between Boulevard and Sporting KC look like?

JR: One of the biggest things is taking the experience of the fans (away games or for fans who can’t attend the home games because of ticket availability) at the watch parties. We have many bar partners in town. Setting up programs where fans can be set with the Sporting experience.  Not only in Kansas City, but Lawrence and other places to build a regional brand.

Use media like our outdoor boards to co-brand. It states the “hometown beer, hometown team” message. To use the affinity that both of us have to create that image so that new consumers of the sport that see these Kansas City brands working together sends a pretty strong members.

We kicked off the partnership by putting inserts for tickets into our sample twelve packs and our core brand twelve packs and distributed them regionally at the beginning of the season. People who were drinking our beer who might not have been soccer fans were given the opportunity to find out more.

We’ve done seasonal releases of beers at LIVESTRONG Park (most recently Zon, Boulevard's Belgian-style wtitbier) a. We’ve held them in the member’s club after the games and feature them on the taps there.

FBM: What have you noticed about the crossover between soccer fans and craft beer fans?

JR: We certainly have similar demographics. Their fans are avid craft beer drinkers. We want to remind them that we’re local partners.

I was surprised that it (the cross over between craft beer and American soccer) was here. I saw soccer as an emerging sport from an outside perspective. Having grown up in the Midwest  from an older generation that didn’t grow up with soccer; it was seen family-driven and youth centered with soccer field being built all over the city so I knew the sport was growing.

I always knew there was going to be the young, hip, urban demographic that was going to be touched. I didn’t know to the extent that they would be as big of fans as they are now. The make up a lot of the Cauldron. There’s a lot of local business that have season tickets and they’re the type that have a lot of 21-29 year-old group that are the primary beer-drinking audience.

That group from the beginning said they wanted Boulevard Beer at the stadium. They wanted us on the jersey.

The tenacity and their vocal support of the team and of us rose to the top. It made it apparent to both of us (Sporting and Boulevard) that we need each other. Because their fans wanted us and we want to be wherever the fans are enjoying Kansas City. Sporting has become a very important part of our Kansas City sporting traditions.

FBM: What are these keg backpacks we've heard about?

JR: Years ago we supplied the Royals with backpacks for vending in the stadium. There were some problems early on. It was obvious they worked because the fans really loved them. They would always talk about them and write in how much they enjoyed them. It’s just such a unique thing to see someone walk up to you and pour you a draft beer off their back.

We tasked our Draft Quality Manager Neil Witte with redeveloping a newer system, identifying the right methodologies, and we had to buy some special sized kegs.

They’ve gotten great response from the fans. They’re easy to operate and pour from vendor standpoint. We've used them at LIVESTRONG Park throughout the stadium, the member's club, and the Cauldron tailgates.

Tags: Beer, Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing 101, The Best of Both Worlds

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