The most visible start of the re-branding process became official this week when the final letters were placed on the front of the venue: “Welcome to Kroger Field.”
But the new name is just the beginning of the grocery retailer’s stamp on campus and the game-day experience at the University of Kentucky.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald-Leader on Thursday, officials from JMI Sports discussed the many different ways that Kroger’s name and brands will become a UK way of life.
“You’re going to start to see day one, right now as we head into football season Kroger start to activate around it,” said Paul Archey, UK sports and campus marketing president. “You’ll see activation start to happen immediately.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
UK signed a 15-year, $210 million multimedia rights deal with JMI Sports in 2014. The sports marketing firm then struck the deal with Kroger, which will pay JMI $1.85 million annually over the next 12 years to have its name on the football stadium.
Some of the many places the Kroger name will become synonymous with Kentucky includes making Gate 6 of the venue formerly known as Commonwealth Stadium into a fast-pass gate for Kroger Plus card holders. Or fans can gain easy entry via that gate by bringing a canned good with them, which will be donated to God’s Pantry food bank.
“We’re trying to tie that back into fueling the Cats and fueling the human spirit and feeding the state,” said Brandon Baker, senior account executive at JMI Sports.
Outside the stadium there will be a large, free tailgating area for fans sponsored by Kroger.
“We’ll have an area and further details, but the gist of it is Kroger customers, through a ticketed process — I don’t know if that will be a receipt or Kroger card — will be able to have a free tailgate at Kroger Field for every home game and a tailgate area that’s large enough to have significant presence,” Baker continued.
Once inside the stadium, there will be dedicated, healthy grab-and-go snack stops for pre-packaged grocery items like granola bars and trail mixes among other things along the lower concourse.
“We’ll have a place now where you can go down and get a kid a healthy snack and less of a line because we won’t be in the bigger concession stands,” Baker added. “We’ll have stand-alone concession areas.”
A “Kroger Field Meal Deal” option will bundle together some of the most popular menu items like hamburgers, chips and a drink.
There will be a digital nutrition component that will highlight UK Athletics’ dietician Monica Fowler and her staff.
“We want to show fans what (quarterback) Stephen Johnson is eating and some behind the scenes nutrition that will trickle over to in-store things they can promote with fueling the Cats,” Baker said. “That will be something fans have never seen before.”
For road games, Kroger will take the pregame radio show to grocery retailers around the state.
The Kroger reach will extend to the start of move-in for new students, including offering shopping carts that can be used by parents and students moving into campus housing.
There will be a special night at the Euclid Kroger for students with games and prizes. Students can explore their local store with appearances by the mascot and cheerleaders.
Before students arrive on campus, they likely will receive notifications about Kroger being an official pharmacy partner, letting them know how to transfer prescriptions from their hometown Kroger to a local one.
Extending the Kroger and UK brands together into the community, there also will be a “Kroger Fields Community Program” that will offer grants across the state to improve playing fields and facilities. The committee of people who will help select the fields was announced by UK on Thursday.
It includes former UK players Freddie Maggard and Jeremy Jarmon, UK softball coach Rachel Lawson and administrator Kevin Saal.
Kim Shelton, UK sports campus marketing vice president, will serve on the board along with Kroger representatives Erin Grant and Josh Hughes.