Should the University of Connecticut Huskies advance in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, there’s a good chance fans will be toasting with a brew made specially for the team. TwoConn Easy ale is a collaboration between University of Connecticut Athletics and Two Roads Brewing—the largest craft brewer in the Nutmeg State—and according to the brewery and local retailers, it’s been an instant hit since launching in November. “We’re blowing through it,” says Sean Beaulieu, manager and co-owner of Ted’s Restaurant & Bar in Storrs, where UConn is based. “The response has been phenomenal.”
Two Roads is one of many craft brewers to partner in some form with a collegiate or professional sports team. Once the bastion of major mainstream beers, team sponsor- ships, partnerships, and naming rights are increasingly finding a place among craft breweries. Collin Kennedy, marketing director at Two Roads, explains that with more than 9,000 craft breweries in the U.S. today, teams are finally realizing that craft beer isn’t a fleeting trend. But the big impetus for the partnerships is the local factor. “Sports teams play a big role in the local community, and craft breweries are the same,” says Kennedy. “The ability for a brewery to collaborate with another member of the community brings value.” Moreover, the partnerships can be lucrative. “TwoConn got us into more accounts, including some that aren’t considered craft beer destinations, allowing us to reach a larger and new audience,” he says.
Boulevard Brewing, meanwhile, began a high-profile partnership with its hometown Kansas City Royals five years ago, and according to company executives, the relationship has served both parties well. Boulevard was named the official craft beer of the Major League baseball team in 2017, allowing the brewery to feature the Royals logo on packaging and promotional materials, while Boulevard beers and signage are promoted throughout Kaufman Stadium. Boulevard has produced several commemorative beers for the Royals, including Gordo’s golden ale, available last year at the stadium, as a tribute to recently retired left fielder Alex Gordon. This year, Gordo’s will be expanded throughout Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska on draft and in 6-packs of 12-ounce cans, according to Bobby Dykstra, executive vice president of sales and marketing at the brewery. Boulevard also produced a special beer in honor of the Kansas City Current professional women’s soccer team in 2021. Teal Rising pilsner will roll out into local markets in March, Dykstra says.
In Texas, Revolver Brewing, a subsidiary of Molson Coors Beverage Co., teamed up with the Dallas Cowboys and Legends Hospitality last year to debut three limited-edition brews available exclusively at AT&T Stadium. According to Evan Howard Kuhner, field marketing manager at Revolver, Watermelon-Hi kolsch, 2 Beers in a Barrel—a blend of schwarzbier and dunkel—and Barrel-Aged Dem Berries, a blueberry wheat beer aged in Bourbon barrels, were collaborations between Legends Hospitality, Cowboys staff members, and coaches’ spouses. “Fans loved the beers,” says Kuhner, adding that while there aren’t any plans to expand the partnership this year, “we would love to do it again.” Among other craft brewers, Boston Beer’s Samuel Adams is the official beer of the Red Sox, and Cigar City is the official craft beer partner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
TwoConn was recently expanded in the off-premise in 4-packs of 16-ounce cans and 12-packs of 12-ounce cans, with packaging that features the Huskies logo. “This isn’t a limited-edition beer,” Kennedy says. “The plan is for this to be available year-round.” He also notes that distribution will expand throughout New England. Marketing and promotional support includes watch party merchandising materials such as pint glasses, pitchers, and signage. Two Roads is also planning events tied to UConn alumni gatherings.
Beaulieu from Ted’s Restaurant confirms that TwoConn sells particularly well on basketball game days. “UConn alumni are very excited to try it,” he says of the brew, priced at $6 a 16-ounce pour. “We keep it on tap all the time, and probably will for years.”
Craft brewery partnerships with hometown teams are likely to grow. Dykstra notes that craft breweries have come to realize how powerful these relationships can be. “The Two Roads’ partnership with UConn has opened our eyes to other similar opportunities.” Kennedy agrees. “Sports and beer is a tale as old as time.”