Beer drinking fans of Saskatchewan’s CFL team appear to be getting something of a rough ride when it comes to their choices this season.
That’s because the Roughriders’ new stadium, which opened in August of 2016 and is slated to host its first regular season CFL game on Canada Day, appears poised to pour Molson-Coors products exclusively, despite much lip-service paid to craft brewers in the run up to Mosaic Stadium’s opening.
Now, exclusivity in arenas and stadiums likely won’t be all that shocking to most readers given that in Canada we’ve become accustom to a team entering a “partnership” with either Molson or Labatt (despite the fact that it is technically illegal in Ontario). Jays fans will note the all AB-InBev beer lineup at the Rogers Centre and fondly recall the shit show that resulted when the organization dared to offer Steam Whistle for one glorious season.
But the Saskatchewan Roughriders aren’t a privately owned team run by Canada’s biggest telecommunications company and their new stadium isn’t owned by any private entity.
The Roughriders are actually the continent’s oldest community-owned professional sports franchise, with a limited number of shares held directly by the public. Additionally, the people of Saskatchewan have legitimate claims to the place where the team will now play its games. Mosaic Stadium was partially funded by the government of Saskatchewan, who provided a grant of $80 million, and a $100 million loan to be paid off through ticket surcharges. The city of Regina likewise provided $73 million in funding, which was subsidized through a property tax increase.
Accordingly for local fans of craft beer, some of whom literally helped pay for the team and the stadium, it’s something of a sore point that a private multinational brewing company is being awarded exclusive pouring rights with little consideration given to their consumer demands.
Unfortunately for them, to cover the remaining costs of the stadium, the Roughriders also announced the addition of three “Founding Partners,” AGT Foods, Viterra, and–you guessed it–Molson Coors. In exchange for their help, these partners have been awarded “lifelong recognition” within the new facility and the ability to secure exclusive, multi-year sponsorship and partnership assets, naming rights and “other opportunities.”
Still, this really isn’t that surprising, right? A sports team accepts a buttload of cash from a beer company and enters a “partnership” to squeeze out competition. Big whoop.
Well, the shitty part is that as the stadium was being built, virtually everyone involved was telling the public that craft beer would be served and the organziation was actively courting small brewers. I talked with Rebellion Brewing Company’s Mark Heise who told me that craft beer was one of the selling points when politicians talked about using public funding for the new stadium.
“The mayor and councillors have been pushing for local craft beer for years,” he says. “The mayor had a stock speech about the new stadium that included the phrase, ‘enjoying a local craft beer while watching the Riders.’”
Heise says he is “extremely disappointed” that team officials publicly professed to support the idea of craft beer at Riders games, even holding meetings with the Saskatchewan Craft Brewers Association (SCBA), but have still failed to offer any actual agreement to solidify the talks.
“Officials contacted [the SCBA] over two years ago, and verbally offered a deal last August/September, only to pull it, and then drag on ‘negotiations’ ever since,” Heise says. “It doesn’t look like they are serious at all. I’m not sure why these people would waste our time and get our hopes up.”
Heise says he verbally negotiated a deal with the City of Regina last summer that ended with officials telling him he could come to the stadium “next week to pick out your spot and start designing a booth.” That didn’t happen.
As recently as May of this year, the Roughriders themselves issued a public statement confirming that local craft beer would be part of new Mosaic Stadium.
Specifically, they said:
The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Molson Coors have agreed to allow product from Saskatchewan-based micro-breweries be available on Rider game days. Along with the City of Regina and Evraz Place, the Riders will be working with the Saskatchewan Craft Brewers Association to discuss potential opportunities.
On May 10th, Jamie Singer, the treasurer of the SCBA said he was told by Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) who deliver food services at the stadium, that a written offer is in the works to sell craft beer.
The Riders have now played two pre-season games and are slated to play their first home game at Mosaic Stadium on July 1st and, as of the date of this blog post, the stadium is still pouring Molson-Coors beers exclusively.
I reached out to the Saskatchewan Roughriders organization for comment and received the following from Ryan Pollock, Director, Media Relations and Football Communications:
The City of Regina, Evraz Place (REAL), and Saskatchewan Roughriders are still in discussions with the Saskatchewan Craft Brewers Association as to options for craft beer in Mosaic Stadium and during Rider games.
If you think this statement has more than a whiff of bullshit to it, you’re not alone.
“If you call not responding to emails and phones calls as ‘still in discussions’ then I guess this is indeed true,” Heise tells me when I shared Pollock’s statement with him. “I also met with the top people at the City last week, and they told me I need to deal directly with the Riders. Nobody really wants to talk about it.”
With just three days until the home opener, it seems extremely unlikely that the Roughriders orgnaziation is going to formulate a plan to allow craft brewers to sell their beer at Mosaic Stadium for the season’s kick off.
Lastly, while I’m not one for conspiracy theories, it’s probably worth noting since it was this tidbit that spurred my interest in this topic:
On the facebook page, Beer lovers of Saskatchewan, it has been pointed out that part of the reason the Saskatchewan Roughriders might be hesitant to allow independent brewers into their new stadium might stem from the fact that the Area Sales Manager for Molson-Coors Canada in Regina just happens to be Nick Mazurak, the son of Saskatchewan Roughriders VP of Sales and Marketing, Steve Mazurak.
Ryan Pollock and the Roughriders organization did not respond to my emailed questions about this potentially conflict-ridden relationship.
I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.