Last year, Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing amplified its status as the Kansas City Royals’ official craft beer partner by also partnering with the team’s second baseman, Whit Merrifield.
The team’s partnership with the brewery began in 2017 – and expanded to include Merrifield last year as players could now take on partnerships with alcohol brands because of a change from the MLB Players Association. Prior to the change, active players could not have partnerships with alcoholic beverage brands.
Despite the current hiatus of baseball, the brewery is full-speed ahead with its player partnerships.
“We became the official beer, and that opened a lot of doors to us; a lot of players wanted to engage, saying they love the brewery and the city,” Natalie Gershon, Boulevard vice president of marketing, said. “Last year, the MLBPA worked hard with Anheuser-Busch, and we’re thankful for them creating a path forward for players to partner with beverage brands in the right way, protecting the integrity with safety in mind. We can say yes to those players that had been talking to us.”
For its part, Boulevard built out a campaign with Merrifield, mainly around the Unfiltered Whit beer, which is the brewery’s wheat beer.
This season, the partnership is expanding to also include Merrifield’s teammate Hunter Dozier.
Gershon said there was quite a bit planned around in-person events during Spring Training and early-season in Kansas City, but with the coronavirus outbreak postponing the start of the season, strategy has shifted.
“Any time your hand is forced, that is when you get creative. I have my team and colleagues flexing new muscles,” she said. “Right now, it’s thinking about different ways to accomplish our goals differently, and some of what we do right now will stick in the new world.”
For example, rather than just cancel events, Gershon said Boulevard is taking them online. Last week, Merrifield took over the Boulevard Twitter page and interacted with fans for the entirety of a Fox Sports replay of a game last June, in which he went 3-for-4 with two home runs and six runs batted in. One of the Tweets, to promote a commercial break giveaway, received more than 1,000 comments.
For now, these virtual events are helping bridge the gap until baseball resumes, but Gershon said she hopes things like Zoom-hosted happy hours, drive-by birthday parades, and the virtual events Boulevard is putting on to showcase Merrifield and Dozier will continue in the future, even when games start again.
“Fans are craving baseball, and we’re trying to connect the dots,” Gershon said. “For us, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, whether it’s four weeks or four months. The best thing we can do is keep these great partnerships alive and keep spirits up.”
Boulevard’s first entry into sports partnerships was with the Royals, and the brewer aims to embrace local pride as much as possible.
Gershon said there’s a beer prepared to celebrate the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory when public gatherings can resume: Worth the Wait imperial red ale, though it’s not an official partnership with the team. (The Chiefs have a craft beer partnership with California’s Golden Road Brewing, an Anheuser-Busch-owned brand.)
Before its official partnership with the Royals, Boulevard released Crown Town Ale in 2014 to celebrate the team’s World Series appearance and again in 2015 to celebrate a World Series victory.
Beyond taking a keen interest in supporting Kansas City sports teams and their fans, Gershon said Boulevard had high hopes with sponsorships at the Royals Spring Training facility in Arizona, which the team shares with the Rangers, as well as the Marlins and Cardinals shared complex in Florida. She also mentioned partnerships with the Corpus Christi Hooks and The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
“For us, we’d love to be everywhere, but we’re a pretty small brewery with a small budget,” she said. “We’d like to focus our efforts to go as deep as possible with our existing partners before overextending. But if I had my druthers, we’d be all over sports.”