Steam Whistle Rogers Centre

Steam Whistle given the boot at the Rogers Centre

Just short of one year ago, Steam Whistle announced we'd be able to buy their ubiquitous craft pilsner at Toronto Blue Jays' games. Today, two weeks from their home opener, they've announced that the partnership is no more.

On March 18, Steam Whistle Co-Founder Greg Taylor received the news that the Jays organization would not be renewing their deal with Steam Whistle and that the only craft beer that's ever been available at the Rogers Centre was being given the boot after just one season.

For their part, the brewery has responded in a typically classy fashion, noting that they are dissapointed, but proud to have held the distinction of being the first craft beer served at Toronto's MLB games.

"We are very appreciative of the warm welcome we received from fans and hope to continue to be part of their game day celebrations by welcoming the public pre- and post-game at our brewery across the street," Taylor said in an emailed statement.

I first reached out to Aramark Canada, the company that oversees foodservices at the Rogers Centre, in January when I heard rumours that Steam Whistle might be shown the door. At that time, David Freireich, who handles Aramark Communications, sent me the following statement:

"We are currently in the process of reviewing and enhancing our food and beverage menu for the 2014 baseball season. During the offseason, we work closely with our Rogers Centre client and their valued partners to develop a diversified and exciting menu for our fans to enjoy during their visits to Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays pride themselves with their strong partnerships representing brands and services that best reflect Canada's team in MLB."

When I pointed out that, with no Steam Whistle, there would actually be zero beers in the Rogers Centre that are actually made by Canadian-owned companies, I was met with a polite apology that Aramark couldn't offer me any additional information.

The decision is one that clearly shows just how behind the times the Toronto Blue Jays organization is. Before Steam Whistle was sold at games last season, the Rogers Centre was the last ball park in North America to embrace the clear consumer movement toward craft beer. Now that the beer lineup at the Rogers Center has reverted to mass-produced, foreign-owned lagers, the Blue Jays once again own the dubious distinction of being the only team in the majors that doesn't support craft beer.

Sports fans have shown, time and again, that local and craft beer can be successful in sports venues. The Charlotte Bobcats, for example, recently created a Craft Beer Garden at Time Warner Cable Arena in October, pouring nine local brewers. As of just two months into the NBA season, their sales were up 39 per cent over last season's draft beer, wine, and hard liquor sales.

And while it's clearly a travesty that Canadian baseball fans who know and love good beer can't get the same sort of local selection that people in Charlotte watching basketball are currently afforded, the massive "Budweiser" logo that currently adorns the Jays' left field might suggest to fans that there are likely some other factors involved ($) in the Ontario market.

A request for comment from the Toronto Blue Jays was not answered as of this post.

Steam Whistle, meanwhile, clearly wants people to know that even though they've been ousted, they still support the Jays' fans. For the season opener weekend, the good beer folks are planning to have extended hours, big screens to watch the game, a DJ, and food vendors. Full details are available here.

And while I'm not one to abuse the forum that blogTO affords me by inciting beer and baseball fans to protest, I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention that public comments on this news might easily be directed places like the Toronto Blue Jays Official twitter account.

Ben Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog. Follow him on twitter @Ben_T_Johnson

Photo by Sebastian Ip

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