Why are coffee companies clamoring for sport concessions?

Sept. 24, 2015

Ever notice how coffee is being served in an expanding number of places? There’s a coffee shop in the Marcus movie theater near my house. I’ve read espresso can now be enjoyed on the International Space Station. And, the least talked about, is how coffee is becoming a major sponsor of sporting events.

This spring Maxwell House (Kraft) announced it would be a race sponsor for NASCAR. Coffee and fast cars…interesting combination, although from the article Maxwell House has actually been a sponsor before.

More recently, Lavazza became the Official Coffee of the U.S. Open. Again, an interesting beverage to be supporting an athletic event, in my opinion. Then this week, I read that Westrock Coffee announced a deal with the Denver Broncos for the 2015-2016 NFL season, and today Marley Coffee expanded their partnership with the team as well. Again, what I find so baffling is no one is really talking about the coffee-sport trend. Am I the only one that thinks this is suggestive of not only the changing sports sponsorship business, but also how coffee is perceived by the consumer?

I did find one reference to sports and coffee online. A marketing publication, IEGSR, claims that ground coffee companies are looking for new sponsorship opportunities because single-cup is eating into their revenue. It’s an interesting idea, although in the case of Westrock Coffee, the company is actually advertising their single-cup option. I wonder if there could be more too it.

The customer that paints their face

The Graduate School of Stanford Business, published an article last year about the evolving sports business and a few things stood out to me related to this topic. The first was that sports teams and arenas don’t just have customers, they have customers who will paint their faces, wear absurd outfits and come to games regardless of the weather – they call them ‘fans’. And as fans, they look at corporate sport sponsors differently. The article noted that fans tend to ‘like’ a brand on social media because of its association with a sports team. Of those who connect, 30 percent of fans are likely to make a purchase from the brand later because of the association. The brand and the team don’t have to be similar or even that logical – say chocolate and soccer. Marketing creates an affinity between the two, and fans become customers for the sponsoring brand.

This perhaps makes a bit more sense to me. But why coffee? It seems sport teams can almost pick and choose sponsors. I think it’s because coffee has become the drink among consumers. It’s no longer just what truck drivers order in diners – and it hasn’t been for a long time. Instead, it’s evolved even more to where sports teams want to align themselves with gourmet hot beverages. Westrock highlights the origin of its coffee and it’s that aspect that really spoke to the team. The VP of sales and marketing for the Denver Broncos is quoted as saying, “When we learned about Westrock Coffee’s mission of partnering directly with coffee farmers to deliver a world-class product that provides value to the farmers and consumers, we felt the story would resonate with our fans.”

How does all this relate to our industry? We have seen coffee evolve. Office coffee service (OCS) has become a strong, profit-generating aspect of on-site foodservice. I think this alignment with sports teams will push coffee even further. And country of origin and sustainability look to be a strong marketing component in some cases. This is a trend I can see continuing into the future.