Across the realm of college sports, devoted fans will do anything to support their teams. In Louisiana these days, though, more schools are asking boosters to do something that’s second nature for many — sip a cold beer.
Four universities around the state now have licensing deals in place with local breweries to make official beers for their teams. School colors, mascots or logos are emblazoned on their labels, and some are served at the university stadiums.
Four Louisiana college sports programs now have licensed beers from small local breweries, i…
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette inked the first such deal in the country in 2015 when it partnered with Bayou Teche Brewing for its Ragin’ Cajuns Genuine Louisiana Ale. Louisiana State University followed the next year, making Bayou Bengal lager from its Baton Rouge neighbor Tin Roof Brewing an officially licensed beer.
New to the roster this season are beers for Tulane University and Southeastern Louisiana University.
Gnarly Barley Brewing Co. in Hammond began canning its Lion Up wheat beer for SLU this summer, while Tulane’s Green Wave Beer from NOLA Brewing Co. is set to debut Saturday at the football season opener in Yulman Stadium.
NOLA Brewing plans to distribute the beer, with its familiar “angry wave” logo widely in New Orleans-area restaurants and stores as the season continues.
“We made this for alumni for when they’re tailgating or they’re out somewhere and want to support the university,” said Kirk Coco, founder of NOLA Brewing. “It’s designed for local fans because it’s an easy drinking beer, something refreshing for sipping at outdoor stadiums and before sports events when it’s still warm here in the fall.”
Nathan Hubbell, general manager of broker IMG College/Tulane Sports Marketing, described the partnership as a way to build more connections with alumni and fans, and he said it was important to the university to partner with a local brewery.
“It all goes back to generating revenue to enhance our program and for the success of our program,” Hubbell said.
New frontier for beer
In pro sports, mega beer brands make huge contacts to affiliate with the leagues. The terms are much more modest for these college-level deals, which are alternately structured as a percent of sales or a flat licensing fee. But college sports represent a new frontier, and it’s expanding.
While Louisiana set the pace, more "official beer" partnerships have emerged around the country. Just this summer brought deals at Colorado State, with nearby New Belgium Brewing; at New Mexico State University, with Bosque Brewing Co. in Albuquerque; at the University of Houston with Bud Light; and at the University of Texas-Austin, with Corona (tagline: “Horns up, limes in.”).
The partnerships bring the schools new revenue at a time when higher education budgets are seeing cuts. They can also be a boost for brewers as competition rises in the growing ranks of beer makers. In Louisiana, all the university partnerships have tapped local brands that are part of the state’s nascent craft brewing industry.
After several months of consternation about how state regulators would oversee their burgeon…
In the two years since Bayou Teche began its ULL partnership, Ragin’ Cajuns ale has emerged as its best-selling brew statewide and in Texas.
“We sat down at the start to sort out what we thought we needed to produce, but we blew through that in no time,” said Bayou Teche founder Karlos Knott. “By now it’s increased our sales by 30 percent.”
The success of Ragin’ Cajuns has spurred successive expansions at the Bayou Teche brewing facility, built on an old family farm in Arnaudville. Knott is proud of his beer, a kölsch style brew he makes with Louisiana rice, though he also credits the work ULL itself put into its packaging design.
“They made it appeal to the wider Cajuns community, not just football fans,” Knott said.
Whatever the motivation, every time someone buys a Ragin’ Cajuns a percentage of the sale goes back to ULL. Each quarter, Knott cuts a check to the school, where his father, his brothers and the majority of his brewery staff attended college.
“It’s the happiest check I write,” Knott said. “You know it’s going to a good cause.
Critics and markets
This college-licensed beer trend has drawn criticism, including from some in Louisiana. Last spring, Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, proposed a bill to ban state schools from licensing official alcoholic beverages. He argued that such deals send a mixed message to university students, most of whom are too young to legally buy alcohol.
However, his legislation was met with derision by LSU President F. King Alexander, who called it "nonsense.” Eventually the bill was killed in legislative committee.
Universities and brewers, for their part, portray the beers as harnessing fan support through another consumer product made by local partners. Their marketing efforts, they stress, are aimed at alumni and fans, rather than students.
"When I was in college, the only beer I could afford was Natural Light," said Tin Roof co-founder William McGehee, an alum of LSU. "We're a craft brewery, we're not mass market. We're aiming for people who are of age and love LSU and want to support the school with a cold beer."
Tin Roof Brewery, founded in 2010, has been working on a LSU beer deal practically since its inception. The first effort was a beer called Bandit Blonde (after the “Chinese Bandits,” the nickname of the backup defenders on the 1958 Tigers national championship team).
This beer was sidelined, however, over concerns from some university leaders of linking LSU with an alcoholic beverage and by the technicalities of licensing. Bandit Blonde became simply Blonde Ale, and its team-themed packaging was toned down.
A few years later, however, the temperature had changed at the university, and a deal went through for Bayou Bengal. In addition to sending quarterly checks to LSU, Tin Roof now takes on interns and student workers from LSU to learn the ropes of running a small business.
"We didn't want to just stamp LSU on the beer,” said McGehee. “Our brewery is a mile from campus, that’s a great resource for us.”
Local and loyal
Bayou Bengal is a straightforward beer, though its affiliation effectively makes it a seasonal one. Production ramps up and distribution widens for football season, and last year showed how demand can shift with the team's fortunes. When LSU rallied after its head coach change, Bayou Bengal sales rose in step.
Lion Up, the wheat beer for SLU, is starting off with distribution focused mainly around the north shore. It’s a small-batch brew but to Gnarly Barley founders Cari and Zac Caramonta, making a beer for their alma matter is huge. The couple met at Southeastern, and they have remained active alumni (the school named them Young Alumni of the Year in 2016).
“As soon as we started the brewery, we started thinking let’s do something with Southeastern,” said Zac Caramonta. “It’s definitely a passion project for us.”
He hopes Lion Up strikes a chord for other Southeastern fans whose allegiance runs deep but whose teams are often overshadowed by bigger players in the field of Louisiana sports.
“You go to stores, even here in Hammond, and the section with LSU gear is bigger than Southeastern,” he said. “For fans to be able to hold a can and drink a beer with the SLU brand on it, I think they’ll take some pride in that.”
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