SBJ/Jan. 13-19, 2014/In Depth

Bobcats use beer garden to grow support for rebrand

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The Charlotte Bobcats are using the new Craft Beer Garden at Time Warner Cable Arena to help drive the team’s rebranding campaign.

The NBA club is changing its name back to the Hornets for the 2014-15 season. The old Charlotte Hornets had a strong regional connection when they led the league in attendance for seven consecutive seasons. Bobcats officials hope the rebrand recaptures some of that old magic.

The Craft Beer Garden reinforces those regional ties. Five of the nine microbreweries partnering in the beer garden brew their products in Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, four cities within a three-hour drive of Charlotte. The other four operate in Charlotte.

The menu board at the Craft Beer Garden highlights the variety of craft brews available. Nine microbreweries partnered with the Bobcats to create the upper-deck location.
Photo by: Huntley Paton
The upper-deck location replaces the old Flight Deck, a full-service bar tied to an outdoor smoking deck that wasn’t getting much traffic, said Pete Guelli, the Bobcats’ executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer.

The Bobcats invested $75,000 to remake the space and signed three-year deals with each of the nine brewers participating in the Craft Beer Garden for a total value in the low-to-mid six figures annually, Guelli said. The same craft selections are available at regular concession stands on the main concourse and in club areas.

Dandelion Market, a pub in Charlotte’s downtown district that went exclusively craft beer on tap in 2010, also pitched in financially, Guelli said. The pub partnered with the Bobcats and Levy Restaurants, the team’s concessionaire, to bring all nine brewers together. The brewers sell their kegs directly to Levy.

Dandelion Market has a separate deal with the team, said Tom Timmons, the bar’s co-owner, a New York transplant who grew up watching Bobcats assistant coach Patrick Ewing play for the Knicks. In turn, Dandelion Market serves as the beer garden’s presenting sponsor and unofficial “restaurant captain” to ensure the stand’s quality, Timmons said.

As part of both agreements, the brewers and the pub receive digital sign exposure in the arena, hospitality, and experiential marketing tied to local brewery events at the arena. Before Bobcats games, two-man bands play on a small stage set up at the Craft Beer Garden.

“We have an initial investment that we hope to get back through doing events [at the arena] and driving traffic back to the restaurant, before and after games,” Timmons said, “­especially as they relaunch the Hornets’ brand going into year two.”

Bobcats President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Whitfield said, “We want it to be more about the state of North Carolina and the breweries that represent it from east to west … and help them grow their brands as we continue to grow ours.”

For NoDa Brewing Co., a 2-year-old Charlotte beermaker participating in the beer garden, driving traffic to its tap room isn’t as important as getting people tasting their beer at Bobcats games and chatting about it on social media, said co-owner Suzie Ford.

“You reach so many different people at the arena, all segments of the city,” Ford said. “We’ve seen an increase in talk on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which is exciting. They’re taking pictures of the beer garden and tagging us.”

NoDa Brewing also has taps in place with Delaware North Sportservice at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. It also signed a deal with Ovations Food Services to serve its beers at BB&T Ballpark, the Class AAA Charlotte Knights’ new ballpark opening downtown in April.

“Going back two years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to do this because it’s only been since that time that we’ve had that amount of local breweries,” Timmons said. “It’s given Charlotte its own identity.”

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