With massive potential upside in the alcohol industry, some hard seltzer makers are making a strong push into sports.
While AB InBev’s Bon & Viv made a major splash this summer with its NFL partnership, Boston Beer Co., the makers of Sam Adams beers, has used seltzer as a gateway into its first national sports deal with the NHL. While the company’s deal with the league is portfolio-wide for Boston Beer, its seltzer Truly was called the “jewel” of the deal by NHL executives.
When looking at the deal with the NHL, Boston Beer CMO Lesya Lysyj said there is a convenient cross-over of NHL fans and hard seltzer drinkers in terms of age and interests that made the partnership a no-brainer.
“With record demand for Truly year-round, not just during the summer months, we wanted to bring Truly to fans across a variety of platforms, and hockey was a natural fit as many NHL fans are already Truly drinkers,” Lysyj said. “The NHL hockey season bookends with the summer months and people are now thinking of hard seltzer as a year-round staple, not just a summer beverage, so the NHL is a great way for us to show up for drinkers all year.”
Hard seltzer was a $550 million business in 2018 – after being a $3 million market in 2015 – and some reports say it could reach $2.5 billion by 2021 – if it stays a hot trend.
While trends in the food and beverage industry come and go, few have come on as strong as hard seltzer – it grew nearly 200% the past year, with 164.3% growth in July, according to Nielsen.
Lysyj said consumer awareness for hard seltzer is still only 60% and sports is the next frontier to help push the educational aspect of the category. As one of the first-movers in the sports world as a seltzer, Truly could maintain – and grow – its status as one of the leaders in the category.
Truly and White Claw own 85% of the seltzer market, despite dozens of other brands popping up, including from craft breweries. White Claw, which dominates the market with nearly 50% of the market, doesn’t appear to be as interested in sports as other brands, particularly those owned by significant beer brands, including Truly and AB InBev-owned brands like Bon & Viv and Natural Light Seltzer.
Natural Light’s seltzer has made its entry into sports, pushing heavily with a partnership with the Big 12 Conference – as the brand likely targets a demographic its tongue-in-cheek seltzer names “Aloha Beaches” and “Catalina Lime Mixer” resonate with.
Along with its position as the official hard seltzer of the Big 12, the brand recently aired its first 15-second ad spot highlighting the Natural Light seltzers in tailgating and will continue to run during major college football games, including Alabama-Auburn, Army-Navy, and the SEC Championship game.
“The Big 12 sponsorship presented an immense opportunity, especially given how passionate sports fans are within this region, and we’re excited to take it to the next level through the Natty Light Seltzer product. We’ll be activating through a variety of fan touchpoints as part of the partnership, including in-game activations, advertising, and social and digital extensions across conference championship events,” said Daniel Blake, Anheuser-Busch senior director of U.S. value brands. “We strategically launched Natural Light Seltzer in August, timed towards the backend of baseball season and right before college football season. This has propelled a positive response to Natty Seltzer so far.”
Natural Light also activated during the World Series, when its Washington D.C. distributor hand-taped “Nationals” labels over the cans inside Nationals Park.
“We saw an opportunity to move super quickly with something that celebrated this monumental achievement, while also reflecting the tone and personality of Natural Light,” Blake said. “The Nationals Light Seltzer can was posted all over social, and media, both in the market and nationally, really showed their excitement for how the brand demonstrated its support. Now that the Nationals are champions, there’s more opportunity to celebrate with their fans between now and the start of the 2020 baseball season.”
The Truly partnership with the NHL could hit another significant market, as a Nielsen report found Canadians are spending 21% more than Americans on sparkling water. While not alcohol, sparkling water consumption in the U.S. was a predecessor to the wave of hard seltzer that overtook American drinkers this year.
For now, the NHL deal is the only sports partnership on the radar for Truly, but Lysyj said the company is always evaluating opportunities.
Likewise, Natural Light will continue to find ways to partner with sports brands, as Blake said Natural Light has always been an “authentic fit for the Natty Light brand.”
“A brand like Natty can find relevance in many different moments within culture, so we’re constantly on the lookout for the right partnerships that will excite and energize our drinkers, while also growing the Natural Light brand,” he said. “The seltzer category, despite its explosive growth, is still very new and has lots of room to develop. As seltzer brands begin to utilize the sports space as a marketing vehicle, we believe we’re well-positioned based on authenticity, especially as it relates to the college demo.
“Sports fans are passionate and quick to notice when a brand isn’t a natural fit within the space. Natural Light Seltzer has a distinct advantage because our brand has always been a part of the conversation during the biggest college sports moments,” he said.