Throughout the 2010s and now into the new decade, all four of the professional sports leagues in America, the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB, have all eased their stances on the use of marijuana. Each league, in one way or another, has allowed for the consumption of cannabis by their athletes, regardless of whether the use is medical or recreational. With loosened policies throughout the country, the focus now turns to the business implications of these changes in policy.
Alcohol companies have ingrained themselves into the overarching culture and experience of going to live sporting events. To imagine this same consumer experience and apply it to cannabis is almost unimaginable; it’s difficult to picture what an advertisement for cannabis products would look like simply because it is yet to be done. With popular support throughout the country, and recreational cannabis now legal in 19 states with the recent legalization in Rhode Island, it begs the question of what the future holds for cannabis advertising in some of the country’s most lucrative organizations.
Rolling Stone Magazine released a recent article, The Future of Sports Leagues: My 5 Considerations for Cannabis Brands Thinking About Sponsorship. In this article Harrison Wise, founder and CEO of Wise Collective, an award-winning integrated marketing agency and Chairman and Publisher of TheBluntness.com, lays out his advice for cannabis companies seeking to make their way into mainstream advertising. One key line of advice he offers involves the importance of integration and education: “thinking more than just branded water bottles and towels.” For larger brands within the ever-growing cannabis space, one example they could follow to accomplish these two goals can be found in Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the MLB’s. From 2019-2021, local brewers Goose Island, owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch sponsored an entire section in right field dedicated to premium service to large parties and brand promotion. In this section they provided premium cushioned seats, servers taking food and drink orders, as well as a full bar inside a decommissioned train car from the Chicago L train system fully dedicated to serving Goose Island products on the concourse. By doing this, the brand, already well known throughout the city, put themselves into the culture of the city even more with the addition of the train car, a Chicago icon. This is the blueprint to what these newly surging cannabis companies should aim to do.
While there are differences between alcohol and cannabis branding and image there would need to be variations and a unique selling point to their attraction setting them apart from the existing alcohol brands and attractions at the park. One idea for this would be to hammer home the “local” nature of licensed state cannabis facilities. This can be accomplished by dispensary marketing departments getting all owners and operators of local dispensaries, craft growers, brands and all adjacent aspects and organize a massive conglomerate of the state industry to create a similar experience catered to cannabis users who have long been neglected by these spaces.
Obviously, you cannot smoke in these areas, but there are, of course, alternatives to this such as infused cocktails, specialty infused food items, raffles for giveaways at local shops, a bulletin for cannabis events and promotions around the area and, as is present in almost all cannabis spaces, an informational representative to answer any and all questions a guest may have. All of this centered around a familiar staple or icon from the city to create a sense of community and familiarity in what could otherwise be uncharted territory for guests. This concept creates a path to transition the cannabis industry and the way people perceive it away from the dated ways of the past. By creating a space that ingrains itself into the fan experience in the same way cracker jacks or alcohol successfully have, we can at the very least educate consumers, harboring a more knowledgeable community, and at best, become a lucrative service and product for all parties involved.
This is just one example of what may be in store for sports fans in the future, and of course it’s easier said than done. However, there are endless possibilities of what can be done in this new space for cannabis. With major athletes such as Mike Tyson, Rob Gronkowski, and Joe Montana all getting their names into the CBD and Cannabis game, it is only a matter of time before this trend fully expands into deals with individual teams, all the way until there are full league-wide deals with major cannabis brands.
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As a fourth year journalism student at the University of Southern California, Jacob is passionate about providing the most up-to-date stories. Jacob follows Illinois news, cannabis advertising, cannabis in sports and first-time cannabis consumers. With experience in product manufacturing and customer relations, Jacob adds immense value to the team. Currently, Jacob resides in Chicago and has experience working with the Chicago White Sox.