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Crawford Bock Brings Beer and Baseball Together for Astros

The Houston Astros and Houston’s Karbach Brewing teamed up for Crawford Bock, a way for both brands to further connect with Texas baseball fans.

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Courtesy: Karbach Brewing Co.

The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series by staying on the forefront of growing baseball trends. In 2019, they’re doing the same at the concessions stand.

Crawford Bock beer debuted in January at Astros FanFest in collaboration with Houston’s Karbach Brewing Co., and recently made its way onto Texas shelves and bars. The beer will also be widely available throughout Minute Maid Park this season.

The partnership makes Houston the latest of several Major League Baseball teams partnering with local breweries to come up with a special beer to hit the right notes with fans. It’s also the third MLB partner brew for breweries in the AB-InBev — makers of Anheuser-Busch products — craft brands portfolio, joining Blue Point Brewing and the New Yankees, and Devils Backbone Brewing with the Washington Nationals.

READ MORE: Redskins Celebrate Fight Song Anniversary With Beer, Hope to Drive Fan Engagement

“For us, it came down to always wanting to be relevant in our messaging and give an experience that’s unique to Minute Maid Park,” said Creighton Kahoalii, Astros senior director of corporate partnerships. “This partnership gave us an opportunity to give us two things that people love, baseball and drinking beer at a baseball game. Not too complicated beyond that.”

The beer’s name comes from the stadium’s “Crawford Boxes” seats. The beer itself, meanwhile, is a bock, a popular beer style in Texas with brands like Shiner and ZiegenBock. The can’s design, which features a rainbow branding that celebrates the team’s 57 years in Houston, was an added bonus.

“All of us at Karbach are die-hard Astros fans and we’re proud to pay tribute to the heritage of the team with this new beer,” Karbach Brand Manager David Graham said. “Working with the Astros organization and the Astros Foundation to release Crawford Bock has been a great partnership and we cannot wait for fellow fans of beer drinking age to try it out.”

According to Kahoalii, in-depth conversations about the beer’s details — such as the name and liquid inside the can — stretched as long as five or six months. The general concept, however, was a no-brainer from the start.

“Baseball and beer go together,” Kahoalii said. “People love their sports teams and the ability to identify their beer locally that’s from their hometown and supports the hometown team, that helps to become a part of the ballpark experience.

“That’s the goal of every brand involved in sports is to meaningfully contribute to what fans are experiencing and it’s a good way to do it.”

Another, wider aspect of that approach has been baseball teams implementing broader efforts to better connect fans within the stadium to local brands. For the Astros, Crawford Bock plays a major role in that initiative but Minute Maid Park will offer select menu items from Texas-based chicken chain Pluckers Wing Bar, as well as maintain an existing partnership with Torchy’s Tacos.

READ MORE: Own a Piece of NASCAR History With Busch Beer’s Car 2 Can Collection

And, in Crawford Bock’s case, those efforts will further feedback into the community. An undisclosed portion of sales will go to the Houston Astros Foundation, which includes focuses such as youth baseball and softball initiatives, military family support, childhood cancer programs and homelessness awareness.

“Supporting the Astros Foundation is a big part of this,” Kahoalii said. “Behind the brand, we asked how to make it a meaningful addition to the community efforts.”

The future of the Astros’ partnership with Karbach is unknown, but Kahoalii is excited about its potential.

“We are optimistic to be able to continue this in the future,” he said. “We wanted to have realistic expectations and see how it does in Year One and be smarter in Year Two.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Concessions

Minnesota Cracks Open a Can of New Revenue

The University of Minnesota is planning to expand its beer and wine sales beyond the confines of TCF Bank Stadium to boost revenue.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Seeking the opportunity to drive more revenue and interest in events, the University of Minnesota is planning to expand its beer and wine sales beyond the confines of TCF Bank Stadium.

According to Rochelle Olson of the Star Tribune, the university is planning to open up beer and wine sales to those sitting in general admission seats at Williams and Mariucci arenas.

What do you need to know?

1. The school has been selling beer and wine at TCF Bank Stadium since 2012.

2. Since then, the university has seen an average of $1.3 million in annual revenue from the sale of beer and wine at the stadium.

3. The school expects that this move will bring in $250,000 in annual revenue at both arenas.

4. Before this move, beer and wine sales at the arenas was confined to premium seating areas.

Minnesota isn’t the only one…

Minnesota isn’t the only university recently to turn to beer and wine to help pad the bottom line. In fact, for the first time ever this year, the NCAA decided to allow the sale of beer and wine at the Final Four.

Here’s a quick look at some of the more recent news surrounding the greater trend of beer and wine sales at college sporting events.

1. College World Series to Sell Beer and Wine – In 2016, the NCAA announced that they would allow the sale of beer and wine at the CWS as part of a pilot program to decide on whether or not they would move forward with more championship events.

2. NCAA Approves the Sale of Beer and Wine at Championships – Just over a year ago, the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow the sale of adult beverages at all of its championship events. Since then, beer and wine sales have been permitted at the Football Championship Subdivision’s championship game, all three wrestling divisions, the men’s lacrosse championships, men’s ice hockey and women’s volleyball championships.

3. Illinois Jumps on the Train – Earlier this month, the University of Illinois announced that it too would begin selling beer during athletic events at Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center beginning this fall.

4. A Growing Trend – According to multiple reports, more than 50 of the 129 D1 FBS programs now allow in-stadium beer and wine sales.

Competition plays a factor too…

With all of the major professional sports teams within a 50-mile radius of the campus of the University of Minnesota, revenue isn’t the only goal.

In order to draw attention from fans and keep them engaged when there is a plethora of other options, beer and wine sales put the venues on an even playing field when it comes to that variable, at least according to one Regent.

“We have to be competitive with other venues.” – Regent Michael Hsu to Olson when talking about the other motives behind the decision to open up sales to a broader group of ticketholders.

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Minnesota United Keeps Concessions in The Neighborhood at Allianz Field

Chefs Justin Sutherland and Bill Van Stee have worked diligently the past three months to curate a hyper-local food and beverage program at Allianz Field.

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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Allianz Field hosts its first-ever Minnesota United home match on Saturday, and the new stadium is inviting the whole neighborhood to celebrate.

That goes for many of its workers and the fans in the stands, but also the food they’ll be eating and beverages they’ll drink. The club tapped St. Paul chefs Justin Sutherland and Bill Van Stee to create a concessions program reflective of the stadium’s community plus a pinch of the sport’s global roots. Sutherland is a St. Paul restaurateur and former Top Chef contestant. Van Stee, meanwhile, is executive chef at Delaware North who spent the last 10 years heading up the concessions program at the Twins’ Target Field.

Together, the pair has worked for more than three months to curate the food and beverage program at Allianz Field.

READ MORE: Hard Rock Stadium Turns Up The Volume For Miami Open Concessions

“Soccer is a very international and diverse sport and the neighborhood the stadium was dropped into is very diverse,” Sutherland. “We wanted to tell the story of Minnesota and make sure it is being inclusive of cuisines of the sport and neighborhood. We wanted to make sure we included the St. Paul staples, the mom and pop shops, and be more than hot dogs and pretzels.”

Those old standbys will still be available in-stadium but the two chefs also made sure to reach out to local food partners to bring in more than a dozen restaurants that feature everything from Indian and Greek to soul food.

“We want to offer them the opportunity to showcase their brands inside the stadium,” said Sutherland. “We asked what kind of cuisines are in our backyard and sought out partners so our fans can have a surprise they didn’t expect to see when they walked in.”

The diversification of concessions options has been a trend going for several years and continues to intensify with local options across the nation. Now, teams and venues are increasingly turning to the “hyper-local” options like at Allianz Field, Aramark Sports and Entertainment President Carl Mittleman told Front Office Sports in January. Aramark doesn’t handle the food service at Allianz Field, but does at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“Local doesn’t cut it anymore — hyper- and flexible- local are becoming more and more popular,” Mittleman said. “Guests are looking for menus representing the community, culture, and flavors that surround them.”

The options at Minnesota United games will also come as a relief to fans, according to a recent study released by Phononic, which found 73 percent of Americans want a wider selection of food at recreational venues.

Now that the menu is in place, Van Stee says the greatest challenge comes in actually serving it. The structure of a soccer game offers one 20-minute halftime break in which fans can safely hit the concessions stand knowing they won’t miss any game action. That creates one flood of activity that other sports have the luxury of navigating over hours.

Sutherland, who has eight restaurants of his own, related the quick service in the stadium to being a “20,000-seat restaurant.”

To combat this, Allianz Field has aggressively staffed with local employees and implemented systems Delaware North has developed during its years of providing venue’s food service. It also has installed high-speed, quick-service kiosks throughout the concourse as well as plenty of point-of-services at concession counters.

“We want to push people through as fast as possible with those time windows,” Van Stee said. “We have that 20-minute intermission to get fans through fast and get them back to their seats. That was really important to both Delaware and the team.”

The beverage program was also important to the soccer club, which placed a focus on bringing in a variety of Minnesota craft beers such as Surly Brewing, Summit Brewing and Lift Bridge.

MORE READ: Executives Outline Predictions for Arena and Stadium Concessions in 2019

“We have a lot of great options for this craft brew age we’re in,” Sutherland said. “The beer varieties will vary from stand to stand, but it’s not just one special beer at a tiny location.”

The fruits of their labor are finally available on Saturday, but Van Stee and Sutherland know the real work is only beginning. They understand it’s their job to feed every fan in the stadium and not all fans have the same wants and desires from their concessions. More than that, those needs will change over time.

“We strive for the variety we know the community has,” Van Stee said. “That’s our vision as we grow into this space. We’ll continue to expand on that.”

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Cleveland Cavaliers and Aramark Launch In-Seat Ordering

The pilot program provides fans access to in-seat beer and water ordering prior to a possible scale-up next season at Quicken Loans Arena.

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Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In the not-too-distant future, fans might never have to miss another key live sports moment to grab another beer or snag a second hot dog. At least that’s the plan for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Aramark, who launched mobile ordering at Quicken Loans Arena this month through Apple Business Chat.

Fans in the lower bowl at Quicken Loans can scan a QR code on seat backs and follow message prompts to order beer or water before completing the transaction with Apple Pay. From there, all they have to do is stay in their seat and wait for delivery.

“We’re continually searching for innovative ways to incorporate digital technology into the food and beverage experience,” said Kevin Kearney, district manager of Aramark’s sports & entertainment division. “The integration of Apple Business Chat with the ordering process is not only fan-friendly and easily accessible, it’s reflective of fans’ changing expectations and behaviors, and we’re looking forward to Cavs and Monsters fans giving it a try.”

READ MORE: Executives Outline Predictions for Arena and Stadium Concessions in 2019

Aramark conducted a proof of concept last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, but the 1,728 seats tested in that run is a far cry from the 7,250 the Cavs are piloting through the end of the NBA and American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters seasons. Cavs Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mike Conley said the team would probably scale up one more time before the end of the season.

“We wanted to test and understand where our fanbase was and get a feel for it,” Conley said. “We want to have the kinks ironed out before we roll out to the whole venue. We want to deliver on a need without investing too much capital, time or effort on something that isn’t widely adopted.

“It’s a crawl-walk-run with continuous feedback.”

Cavs Aramark Ordering

Assuming the pilot program at Quicken Loans Arena goes well, Aramark could roll it out across its portfolio of client venues in the near future. The Cavs also expect to do a large scale up next season following a massive $140 million renovation to the arena.

This mobile ordering pilot is not the first time the Cavs have tried experimented with the technology. Two seasons ago, they attempted the roll-out of a quick in-seat service of prepackaged snacks and beverages, only to find the arena wasn’t optimized for the service.

“Modern-day stadiums, the last five or 10 years, have accounted for this delivery concept,” Conley said. “Our venue, built in 1994, didn’t have the foresight that we would have this technology. Our kitchens weren’t prepared to handle the load and logistics to provide the service.”

Without quick adoption, the Cavs killed the beta experiment and have since cleaned up the logistical issues for this roll-out with Aramark. The mobile ordering is done through a virtual back-end and uses hawkers already in a seating area to deliver the beer or water.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets Put Customer Service in the Palms of Fans

Expect technology to remain a crucial piece of live sports experiments moving forward, said Don White, the CEO of Satisfi Labs, which focuses on digital customer service at live events. He believes services like the mobile ordering at Quicken Loans Arena could eventually spill over from concessions into merchandise, ticketing and parking.

“This is a great movement to get customers on their mobile devices providing a real value-added service,” White said. “This move has gotten everyone’s attention and now there’s a huge demand of ‘what else can we do and give fans right away?’”

The search for answers will remain essential so long as television broadcasts, augmented reality and virtual reality experiences lag behind the live-event experience. For the time being, the best solution may only be found in one arena in the country. But at least fans in Cleveland won’t have to miss a basket or a goal to quench their thirst.

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