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Michelob ULTRA Grows its Brand Alongside Brooks Koepka

Even Michelob ULTRA would have been hard-pressed to imagine Brooks Koepka’s success and impact on its brand after partnering with the golfer two years ago.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

In April 2017, Michelob ULTRA announced a partnership with a 26-year-old golfer. At the time, he’d missed four of his last six cuts in stroke play events and had just one PGA Tour victory, coming in 2015.

Since then, Brooks Koepka’s career has popped off. Michelob’s gambit paid off.

Over the last 25 months, Koepka has won three major championships – the 2017 U.S. Open, 2018 U.S. Open and 2018 PGA Championship. He also won the CJ Cup last October. He’s held the World No. 1 ranking four times for a total of nine weeks. In 2018, he was the PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Before Koepka attempts to defend his PGA Championship and U.S. Open titles in the next two months, Michelob ULTRA rolled out the red carpet – well, actually a barge in the Hudson River – for Koepka. On Monday, the now-29-year-old was given a chance to win free beer for New Yorkers. He would take three shots off of the Governors Island Outlook Hill in Lower Manhattan, needing one ball to land on a moving green roughly 120 yards away.

Koepka dunked his second shot onto the barge.

“I think this is probably one of the more difficult shots I’ve hit,” he chuckled. “It’s windy, it’s cold. You’re up at elevation. It was a great shot. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I got everybody beer.”

Getting everybody beer is a loose way to put it. On May 16, the first day of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island, consumers in NYC will be able to get a $5 rebate on Michelob ULTRA 6-packs, as well as a free Michelob ULTRA at select bars in the city from 3-6 p.m. 

From a business perspective, Anheuser-Busch deserves more credit than striking gold by dumb luck (necessary disclosure: AB InBev is a partner of Front Office Sports). There was a reason for signing Koepka in the first place. In a sport with a lengthy tradition of staging an equal playing field for individuals of all shapes and sizes, Michelob ULTRA needed a spokesman who fit the low-calorie, low-carb beer. Koepka, a chiseled 20-something-year-old who values his fitness, was a prime choice.

“We were looking for somebody who really embodies the spirit of our brand, someone who cares about their health and wellness and being fit and being active as a big part of who they are,” recalls Azania Andrews, Vice President of Marketing for Michelob ULTRA at Anheuser-Busch. 

Koepka grew up in South Florida and went to Florida State, a state that Andrews describes as an important territory for ULTRA. Now, as travels the world playing golf, he frequently Instagrams from the gym with friend and fellow golfer Dustin Johnson. 

“The brand they have, staying fit, it’s exactly what I try to embody as an athlete and as a golfer,” Koepka says. “I think it’s a perfect relationship. The way that they carry themselves, the attitude that they have towards lifestyle, it’s something you can enjoy yourself, but still be fit. That’s exactly what I try to do.”

Sponsors don’t have the same scouting departments as front offices in team sports. Michelob ULTRA’s timing with Koepka is as textbook a brand success story as you can find. The company brings in a young, unproven athlete who goes on to become one of the top stars in his sport. Were it not for Tiger Woods’ legendary comeback at this year’s Masters, Koepka might have had four majors by this point. 

“He was somebody with a lot of skill, a lot of potential, but was maybe not recognized as the sort of leader that he’s become,” Andrews says. “What’s been interesting is as he’s risen, our brand has risen in terms of business and prominence and wealth, as well. So we feel he’s a perfect match for us.”

Michelob ULTRA wanted health and wellness. They got that — and three majors and counting.

“When you have somebody who is as good as he is and playing as well as he plays, partnered with you, it helps us drive awareness, and it helps us remain relevant in the sport,” Andrews says. “It attracts a new group of drinkers. We hope to work with him for a long time and find all sorts of interesting things to do.”

On May 16, that crowd will be New Yorkers who are unable to make the commute out to Bethpage but neverteheless are captivated by Koepka’s skills.

Meanwhile, Koepka hopes to celebrate a major with Michelob ULTRA for the fourth time that Sunday.

Jeff Eisenband is a broadcaster and writer based in New York City. He previously served as senior editor of ThePostGame and has contributed to the NBA 2K League, NBA Twitch channel, DraftKings, Tennis Hall of Fame, Golfweek, Big Ten Network, Cheddar and Heads Up Daily. A graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Jeff truly believes Northwestern will win national championships in football and basketball.

Sponsorship

Teams and Leagues Cozy Up to CBD Brands

The sports world is beginning to bring CBD companies into the fold, marking a significant milestone for the CBD industry.

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Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

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

As teams and leagues look for emerging partner opportunities, CBD brands are showcasing that they aren’t afraid to spend when it comes to sports partnerships. 

While not really a thought in the minds of professionals more than a year ago, CBD presents both a revenue opportunity and an interesting challenge for teams and leagues.

How did this happen?

Before the enactment of the new nationwide 2018 Farm Bill. there wasn’t much mainstream conversation around CBD. Since then, the category has exploded across both retail and sports.

When the bill passed, it legalized industrial hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and allowing tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries that allow farmers and ranchers to produce a high-value cash crop while retaining federal farm program benefits that were previously not allowed.

Teams and leagues are starting to find interest…

Just this past week, the Portland Pickles became the first baseball team with a CBD partner.

Before that, the Big3 signed a deal with cbdMD that made the brand the official CBD partner of the upstart basketball league. 

And, ahead of this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced its partnership with DEFY – a CBD-based sports performance drink.

The only problem with this partnership is that the drivers of the car can’t drink the drink due to the fact that CBD is on IndyCar’s banned substance list

Who’s sponsoring what?

Below you will find a list of some of the CBD and cannabis-related partnerships that have been signed recently.

Las Vegas Lights / NuWu Cannabis Marketplace

Big3 / cbdMD

Portland Pickles / Lazarus Naturals

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports / DEFY

Jonathan Byrd’s Racing / Liquid Gold Processing

RC Enerson / Craft 1861

It’s not just teams and leagues…

While the bigger deals might get more attention, CBD companies have also struck deals with athletes. 

For example, Bubba Watson has a deal with cbdMD, the same brand that is sponsoring the Big3.

Before Watson, Scott McCarron signed an endorsement deal with Functional Remedies, a hemp manufacturing company.

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Sponsorship

Are NFL Jersey Ads Next?

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May 15, 2019; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki (44) runs a drill during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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

Jersey ads aren’t an unfamiliar sight at NFL practices. Brands like Lecom and Hyundai are visible on the practice jerseys of the Browns and Cardinals respectively.

The one place jersey ads haven’t shown up is in regular season games. 

Could that be changing anytime soon?

Speaking with SI, an NFL spokesman said, “Never say never, but there are no current plans to pursue or explore.”

With what SI estimates to be $224 million in revenue being left on the table by not having patches on the jerseys, why would the league not consider it? 

According to those inside the industry, the NFL is concerned about conflicts of interest between teams who may have patches of competitors of current partners for opposing teams.   

The NBA has found success…

The NBA launched its jersey patch program in 2017 and as of March of 2019, every team in the league found themselves with a patch on their jersey. 

According to Terry Lefton and John Lombardo of SBJ, the patch program has generated more than $150 million for the league.

Another important stat is that of the 30 team patch sponsors, 20 are doing business with NBA teams for the first time.

At this point, not having ads is more unusual…

Even MLB, considered the most traditional of sports leagues in the U.S., has experimented with sponsor patches since 2000. Of the major sports leagues in the U.S., here’s a look at which ones have ads on their game jerseys and which ones don’t. 

NBA: Yes

WNBA: Yes

MLS: Yes

NHL: No 

NFL: No

MLB: Yes (for special occasion games only – Mexico Series etc)

Internationally, teams are cashing in…

While soccer is somewhat different in that the advertising is not just a patch, but the primary part of a team’s uniform, the revenue potential can’t be argued. Here’s a look at what just five brands are paying international clubs, according to The 18.

Emirates / Real Madrid: $80 million per year 

Chevy / Man U: $68 million per year

Rakuten / Barcelona: $60 million per year

Emirates / Arsenal: $56 million per year

Yokohama / Chelsea: $51 million per year

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CohnReznick Sponsors a Dive Inside the Business of Baseball

Accounting firm CohnReznick shows the business of baseball in two video series with MLB, “Business of Baseball” and “Front Office Focus.”

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Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

Accounting firm CohnReznick is taking an authentic approach to its MLB sponsorship. Through a video series called Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus, CohnReznick lends its name to an inside look at professional baseball. The series is produced by MLB Network, where it airs, along with, MLB.com and CohnReznick’s website.

MLB confirmed CohnReznick as a sponsor of the video series to FOS. The two parties collaborate on ideas, but MLB declined to speak on the sponsorship further.

“Our team really wanted something that was authentic, not just a way to slap our name onto something, but to own something,” says Frank Longobardi, CEO, CohnReznick. “We are able to align some of our core values with what’s being talked about in Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus. That makes us feel good, as we felt we could drive content and value with our strengths.”

READ MORE: MLB Flies Under the Radar With Sponsor Patches

While service-oriented companies have sponsored sports for decades, it’s becoming more common for non-consumer brands to find ways to cut through the clutter,” says Joe Favorito, a sports marketing and communications consultant.

“These companies are tying to something that resonates,” Favorito says. “Consumers have millions of choices. If it comes down to personal choice, they remember the company for who their spokesperson is or the story being told.”

The Business of Baseball series launched during December’s Baseball Winter Meetings, where CohnReznick was the presenting sponsor of the meetings for MLB Network. Over the course of the video sponsorship, there will be approximately six Business of Baseball videos and up to 35 Front Office Focus clips through the season.

“They’re topics, like hospitality and security, that are the same types of things we deal with our clients,” Longobardi says. “We wanted to show similarities of how Major League teams go through some of the same things our clients go through.”

Each of the videos feature commentators and baseball executives. Front Office Focus highlights discussions with executives from the league’s 30 teams about issues ranging from team strategies to club operations, while Business of Baseball looks into how franchises transform the game through analytics and management, but also how they redefine the fan experience.

A recent episode, “The Business of Food,” featured a look at how food experiences now play into a fan’s trip to a ballpark., like a sit-down interview with Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer by CohnReznick Managing Partner Cindy McLoughlin talking about how the game day experience has evolved to include a culinary aspect. The restaurant industry is evolving inside and outside the ballpark.

“When you look at stadiums and games, it’s not just about baseball anymore,” McLoughlin says. “Fans expect an overall experience. People get to stadiums to stand in line, they need to get their Shack Burger.

“That led us to Danny Meyer to really peel back why it’s a benefit to him and how those synergies line up.”

The video topics originated in a brainstorming session featuring CohnReznick’s team and  MLB. The topics center around issues with innovation and analytics to elevate customer experience and retain loyalty. From these conversations, MLB could consider matching a team with a relevant topic.

“It puts us front and center with a really good brand,” Longobardi says of the partnership. “In any business, you want to align yourself with good organizations, and this relationship does that well and connects the right type of people we’re trying to attract, the C-Suite individuals to middle market to small public companies.”

READ MORE: The MLBPA Has Embraced Athlete-Driven Marketing

The sponsorship has allowed CohnReznick to provide clients, potential clients and employees with strong relationship building opportunities at games and events.

“It really has allowed us to spend some time with key clients and be able to spend quality time with our employees and enjoy ourselves,” Longobardi says. “We can more closely align MLB brand with our clients and our staff, and that makes it a unique experience.”

By tying in with behind the scenes content, CohnReznick hopes to resonate with clients beyond just a name on the screen.

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