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Kansas City Royal Whit Merrifield Highlights Boulevard Brewing Campaign

Kansas City brewery Boulevard Brewing has tabbed Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield for a rebrand that was as natural as partnerships get.

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Whit Merrifield Boulevard

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield is a major piece of a significant beer campaign by Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing.

Merrifield, who led MLB in hits and stolen bases last season, has partnered with the craft brewer for its Unfiltered Whit campaign that promotes one of its flagship products, Unfiltered Wheat. The campaign features advertising, merchandise, a sweepstakes and plenty of player appearances. Boulevard has made the beer for 25 years, and now the brewery’s best-seller is getting a modern makeover.

According to the brewery, it’s one of the first endorsements between a Major League Baseball player and a craft brewery despite plenty of athletes loving beer and some, like former Boston Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis, owning breweries.

READ MORE: Crawford Bock Brings Beer and Baseball Together for Astros

As the brewery realized the “beer that built Boulevard” needed a refresh, it turned to an athlete who knows the brewery and the Kansas City community well, Boulevard CMO Natalie Gershon said. A witbier is a type of Belgian-style wheat beer, so Whit Merrifield’s name fits well even beyond the similarity to wheat.

“We joke that the campaign wrote itself,” Gershon said. “However, Whit is an amazing baseball player and a true fan of the brewery. When we got the chance to work together, the partnership came together very quickly as we both knew we wanted to do something fun, authentically Kansas City and charitably driven.”

As part of the campaign to introduce the rebranded Unfiltered Wheat, the Boulevard team and Merrifield came up with “Whit-icisms,” ultimately recording videos of the player and his life as a baseball player in Kansas City. Likewise, Merrifield’s likeness will be used on billboards throughout the Royals’ region, most notably on Boulevard’s outfield wall sign at Kauffman Stadium.

“Boulevard is an essential part of Kansas City,” Merrifield said in a statement. “I’m so proud of these iconic Kansas City partners and the opportunity to raise money and awareness for this incredible organization.”

A sweepstakes will give fans the chance to win a VIP experience for an on-field meet-and-greet with Merrifield in September plus tickets to the Royals’ Dugout Suite with Boulevard representatives. Boulevard also created new ad spots for the Unfiltered Wheat for Hulu and the Fox Sports Royals Live Postgame Show.

Finally, as part of the deal, Boulevard has partnered with Kansas City’s Charlie Hustle Clothing Co. to make Unfiltered Whit t-shirts, with a portion of the $35 tees going to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City.

READ MORE: Less is More: How Andrew Luck Handles Off-The-Field Partnerships

“We are thrilled to team up with Boulevard Brewing and Whit Merrifield to create our spin on Unfiltered Whit and to support a great cause,” Charlie Hustle CMO Katie Martincich said. “This collaboration is near and dear to us as it embodies three things we love: synergy among KC brands, enthusiasm for local sports, and charitable contributions to a great KC foundation.”

The partnership with Merrifield deepens longstanding ties between the brewery and the baseball team. Boulevard became the “Official Craft Beer” of the Royals in 2017, which established six Boulevard-centric destinations within Kauffman Stadium and the brewery’s Smokestack in the outfield. Additionally, the brewery has rolled out the Mexican-style lager ¡Vamos! for the second year, a beer made as a salute to the Royals, complete with the branding. Royals imagery has also been used on some of Boulevard’s packaging in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Several other teams have “Official Craft Beer” sponsorships with breweries, so it might not be long before more players are jumping on board with endorsement deals. It’s hard to imagine any brewery, though, partnering with a player whose name lends itself toward easier branding.

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.

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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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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