If you’re attending the Carolina Panthers preseason game this Friday night, you’re going to see fewer beer options than in past seasons. I’ll explain why, but first — some history.
In 2011, I published the first of what would become annual posts on the beer selection at Bank of America Stadium. The Carolina Panthers would finish 6-10 during Cam Newton’s rookie season, but at least fans had a reason to cheer in the stands. That year, the beer selection inside the stadium took a massive leap forward with offerings from Foothills Brewing, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and the now-defunct Skull Coast Brewing Co.
Joining those three the next season was NoDa Brewing Co., and then in 2013 things really picked up with a new beer garden filled with breweries like Big Boss Brewing, Natty Greene’s Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing, Oskar Blues Brewery, RJ Rockers Brewing Co. and SweetWater Brewing Co. A month after my 2013 post came out, the stadium came in at No. 4 on The Daily Meal’s list of “The Best NFL Stadiums for Craft Beer.”
And as the Panthers improved, so too did the beer selection. In 2014, most of the aforementioned brands were still in the stadium, and there was a new Beers and Bacon bar on the 300-level filled with even more options.
But last year? The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery chose not to remain a sponsor of the team due to financial commitments they made to Craft Freedom, a movement aimed at raising the amount of beer N.C. breweries can self-distribute. They were subsequently told their beer would no longer be carried in Bank of America Stadium, though their bottles are still available in suites. NoDa Brewing was still in, but since I couldn’t get confirmation from the Panthers on other brands I opted to forego my usual post last year.
And since I’m writing a post like this instead of “Beers in Bank of America Stadium: 2016 Edition,” you can probably guess that things are no better this year. NoDa Brewing was asked to lower their pricing by Delaware North, “the official food, beverage, and retail service provider for the Carolina Panthers.” After refusing to do so, NoDa Brewing was told their beers would no longer be available on draft throughout the stadium.
Suzie Ford, co-owner of the brewery, had this to say in an e-mail:
“We are very excited about the upcoming Panthers football season! While we had hoped to have as many locations inside the stadium for Panthers’ fans to enjoy a NoDa brew as last year, this season NoDa cans (no draft) will only be located in 3 markets (1 one each level). Look for Hop, Drop ‘n Roll and Jam Session in 139 Market, Beer & Bacon on level 3 and 531 Market. Want to see our cans closer to your seats like last year? Let your voice be heard on social media and tag the Panthers.”
John Berger, director of sponsorship sales and services for the team, confirmed that Delaware North asked NoDa Brewing to lower their pricing. The brewery’s president, Suzie Ford, says it would be unfair for them to offer lower pricing to the stadium than to other bars and restaurants. She did acknowledge that their costs go up by around 3 percent each year as the cost of ingredients rise, which amounted to an increase of $2 per case of beer. Since the brewery won’t lower the pricing, the cost per cans in the stadium has increased to $10.75 (a decision made by Delaware North).
In the end, it’s a business and money talks. But it’s disappointing to see the local beer selection dwindling inside the stadium, especially considering the support many of the breweries have shown the hometown team. NoDa Brewing founders Todd and Suzie Ford, for instance, attend many of the home games and tailgate with The Roaring Riot fan club, with whom they’ve created a new rye pale ale. At CharlotteFive’s Carolina Panthers Tailgate Party on Aug. 31, they will donate a dollar from each beer sold to the Cam Newton Foundation.
And Carolina Panthers fans clearly want more local offerings, as seen by these reactions to Bud Light’s new Carolina Panthers can:
Scroll through the thousands of comments under that post and you’ll see that the top one was the most liked. These are just a few; there are many more from people expressing their, how do we say, lack of appreciation for Budweiser.
There may be more craft beers brought into the stadium from the local Bud and Miller distributors, however I was unable to get a list of such beers from the Carolina Panthers. But for now, it looks like the beer selection in Bank of America Stadium has taken a step back for the second year in a row.
If you’re going to the games this year, let us know what you will — or won’t — be drinking.
Photo: Courtesy of Suzie Ford