The Australian cricket team might still take to the field in The Ashes with XXXX Gold as a major sponsor and many years remain on CUB’s contract at the MCG, but bridges continue to be built between the craft beer world and the country’s sports clubs.
Following the release of a beer for Melbourne City FC earlier in the year, Collingwood based Stomping Ground runs a pop-up bar for fans outside every home game at AAMI Park (pictured above) and the Central Coast Mariners now have their own beer courtesy of Six String Brewing.
With Gage Roads preparing for the launch of its beers at the new Perth Stadium and other tie-ins such as Essendon’s Bombers Beer gaining traction for craft beer in new circles, momentum appears to be building. Indeed, according to one expert in the field who worked with Gage Roads on their successful bid, craft beer is one of the means by which clubs across the planet are looking to entice fans to their games.
Certainly, the partnership with Stomping Ground is working for Melbourne City.
“It’s going really, really well. We’re really happy with it,” says the club’s marketing director, Nick Becker. “The feedback we’re getting from the fans is fantastic.
“The stuff [Stomping Ground has] brought down to match days has just taken off; there’s been steady growth from round one. It’s gone from fans discovering it to a queue to get a beer an hour before kick off five to ten people deep.”
It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the wider world of sports, says fan engagement specialist Blair Hughes, who assisted Gage Roads on their bid for Perth Stadium and who has spent time studying major clubs in Europe and the US. As the experience of watching sport at home has evolved – expansive, high definition TVs, surround sound, cheaper and more diverse booze than is available at stadia – clubs are putting ever greater focus on the fan experience, with craft beer increasingly part of that.
“It might be putting on one keg of a local brewer’s beer before a game or West Ham producing their own Iron Ale and Boleyn Bitter to offer after the gates have opened,” says Blair. “It gets fans in early, helps create more of an atmosphere and more fans means more eyeballs on sponsors.
“It’s a big thing and it’s about supporting the local community. People want to support their local brewer or their local shop – their local industry – and get a better beer than whatever mid-strength is available in the stadium for $8 a schooner.”
In the case of the Stomping Ground bar, located on Gosch’s Paddock next to AAMI Park, according to brewery co-owner Steve Jeffares, after a slow start, “fans have come to rely on us being there”.
“We started getting big crowds so, after a four game trial, we said, ‘Let’s keep doing this.’.”
The Central Coast’s A League club, the Mariners, has just launched its own beer too, with players visiting Six String Brewing in Erina to help out on brew day. As with the Essendon Bombers Beer, it’s a rebadged version of an existing beer now available as the Six Stripes Coastie Lager, packaged in a collector’s can featuring the faces and signatures of the club’s Dutch players (and part-time brewers) Wout Brama and Tom Hiariej.
“As proud locals and sponsors of the Mariners it was just a natural thing for Six String Brewing and the Central Coast Mariners to do together,” says Six String’s Ché Santi. “It was a great collaboration with a great team of people.”
For now, the Six Stripes collaboration is limited to a single run and was poured at last weekend’s pre-match function.
Looking ahead, and weighing up the chances of the smaller players in the industry making significant inroads within the country’s sporting citadels – Perth Stadium and Gage Roads aside, Nick says: “I think it’s an interesting one as a lot of US stadiums have started to take on local and independent brewers even if they have a bigger deal with a larger brewery. I’d love to see that type of behaviour here as well.
“The fans can really push for it. From our fans’ feedback, food and beverage is something they would like to see reviewed. The potential is there but it’s getting over existing arrangements.”
Blair agrees that such partnerships are only going to increase; earlier this year, he was involved in efforts to brew a Young Henrys beer for Arsenal’s visit to Australia but time, in the end, was against them. He also says he was blown away to be able to drink James Squire’s new tropical summer ale at a Women’s Ashes game in North Sydney recently and points out that Lion has also started offering Little Creatures and Rogers’ Ale in bars at stadia where it has secured pouring rights, such as The Precinct at Suncorp Stadium and within the Adelaide Oval.
“In the last year, it’s taken off,” he says of the sport world dipping its toes outside the world of mid-strength lagers. “It’s another way to add to the fan experience, to get them away from their high definition TV and massive sound system at home and into the stadium.”
He says this is also behind the improving food offerings and entertainment at stadia, and says the drive to build the profile of women’s sport also ties in to a desire to build upon the existing fan base for sport in Australia. What’s more, he believes allowing small, local brewers some space at (or at least outside) major arenas benefits the larger brewers with long-term, exclusive contracts in place because it brings more people to games.
As to why craft brewers have only really started to make inroads in earnest in the past year or so, he says in many cases it’s down to resources.
“The major thing that the general fan doesn’t understand is that clubs are so strapped for cash, for time and for resources,” he says, pointing out that sponsorship is typically already tied up and clubs are tied into sponsorship deals agreed by the leagues too.
“There’s often one person – or at most a handful – who will be responsible for fan engagement, marketing and membership,” he says. “In the US, I’ve visited clubs and they’ve got 30 to 40 people in some of those teams.
“The other issue is very much that the fan experience has really been a driver in the past two to three years in stadiums all over the world. Putting in accessible bathrooms or a sensory room for people with autism – it shows how inclusive a club is. It’s all these little things clubs are doing, from new LED screens to better food or craft beer.
“The TV experience at home is so good, they’ve got to provide a money can’t buy experience. If you’re at home with your mates, you’re not part of the story at the stadium. It’s a big issue.”
And it’s one in which craft brewers, it seems, have a role to play.
You can find out more about the Six Stripe Coastie Lager here.
Melbourne City is running a beach football program across January and February and Nick says the hope is to have a pop-up bar and food trucks as part of the setup.
Craft beer made number 62 in Blair’s top 100 fan engagement experience list for 2017.
Look out for news of another exciting and highly visible public activation from Stomping Ground late next week too.