The King of Beers has been dethroned — by a beer named for an American patriot.
Samuel Adams is set to replace longtime sponsor Budweiser as the official beer of the Red Sox, after its brewer, Boston Beer Co., signed an eight-year deal with the team that will last through the 2025 season.
Plenty of Major League Baseball stadiums now offer craft beer, but Sam Adams appears to be the first craft beer to become the official brew of a ball club.
Boston Beer founder and chairman Jim Koch admitted being surprised when the Red Sox reached out to initiate talks earlier this fall. The vast majority of professional sports teams are sponsored by either Budweiser-maker Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors, and Koch said he “didn’t think [Boston Beer] would be able to play in that league.”
But Koch and Red Sox chief executive Sam Kennedy said their talks — which included a Koch-led tour of Boston Beer’s Jamaica Plain brewery and meetings between Sox executives and Boston Beer’s board — were propelled by the idea that both brands had a strong regional identity.
“It’s a completely natural fit,” Koch said. “You think of New England’s baseball team, and it’s the Red Sox. What beer is more New England than Sam Adams?”
While there’s a debate among beer fanatics about whether Boston Beer has outgrown the craft brewer label, its output of about 4 million barrels of beer and other drinks in the last fiscal year is dwarfed by the nearly 100 million barrels made by Anheuser-Busch during the same period.
As a result of the deal, sealed earlier this month, Sox fans will notice significant changes to Fenway when they attend (or tune in for) the April 5 home opener.
The giant red Budweiser sign over the right field deck? Done for — it will be torn down and replaced with a equally prominent Sam Adams marquee. The Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck? Try the Sam Deck. Boston Beer will also build an “experiential bar” in the concession area behind the third base line dubbed “Sammy’s on 3rd.”
Koch said his company is working on a sign design that respects Fenway Park’s historic character.
“I’d like to do something as cool as we’re allowed to,” he said, “but it’s Fenway — we can’t, like, turn it into Las Vegas.”
The partnership doesn’t mean there will be more Sam Adams — or less Bud — on tap inside Fenway. Under alcohol regulations forbidding so-called pay-to-play arrangements, the Sox and Fenway concessionaire Aramark aren’t allowed to take money from one beer brand in exchange for promoting it over others.
In fact, while the changes at Fenway will be the most visible aspect of the new partnership, much of the expected reward for Boston Beer should come from outside the ballpark. The contract allows the brewery to use the Red Sox name and logo in its marketing, including displays in liquor stores and neon signs in bar windows. Boston Beer can also run Sox-related contests that reward winners with a day at the park.
The sides declined to detail the contract’s financial terms. However, Koch said the cost was significant enough that Boston Beer will need to shift some funds away from its traditional advertising budget to pay for it. The brewer’s New England wholesalers may also help pick up the tab.
The Red Sox said they had negotiated with multiple brewers, including Anheuser-Busch, but picked Boston Beer because of the team’s preference for local brands and a strong push by Koch and Boston Beer chief executive Martin Roper.
“We have a strategy of partnering with local companies and brands whenever possible,” Kennedy said. “But Jim and Martin really stepped up and made it clear that they wanted to make a bold statement.”
The principal owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, also owns the Globe.
Anheuser-Busch had been the exclusive beer sponsor of the Red Sox since 2004, when it partnered with the team to build the new right field deck. The mega-brewer previously sponsored the Sox from 1977 to 1986, and had periodic limited partnerships with the team after that, according to the Red Sox.
An Anheuser-Busch spokesman said in a statement that the two companies “achieved a great deal together” and that the brewery remains “dedicated to supporting our fans’’ and their favorite pastimes.
Budweiser is still the official beer of Major League Baseball. That arrangement means Boston Beer can’t promote its connection to the Red Sox outside of New England.
From the 1940s through 1975, Narragansett Lager was heavily associated with broadcasts of Red Sox games; its “Hi Neighbor. Have a Gansett” tagline, as intoned on air by Sox announcer Curt Gowdy, became ubiquitous. But Narragansett Brewing Co. dropped that sponsorship as it struggled to survive in an era of massive consolidation within the beer industry.Dan Adams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.