Seeing an Opportunity for Change, Mad River Reached Out to the San Francisco Giants

It started with an email. It led to a first pitch on Opening Day.

Since taking over Mad River Brewing in late 2019, the Yurok Tribe in Northern California has been looking for ways to expand its reach to new consumers and tell the tribe’s story as one of the few Native American-owned breweries in the country.

“During the pandemic, while facing an incredible loss, we realized we needed more exposure and help with our brand reach,” explained Linda Cooley, a Yurok Tribal Member, and MRB CEO. “The San Francisco Giants have been the most inclusive franchise within professional sports. As a Native American witnessing tokenism my entire life, I realized there was an opportunity for change in that realm.

“What if a professional team let us tell our own story? We searched for contact information, sent an email regarding our struggle as a business and as Indigenous People. We laid out the struggle of both, and the Giants listened.”

On April 9, Cooley was tasked with throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the Giants/Miami Marlins contest.

In February Mad River forged the first-of-its-kind partnership as the first Tribal-owned brewery to have products sold in an MLB ballpark. On April 8, three beers began to be available for purchase in the Giants’ Oracle Park: the award-winning Steelhead Extra Pale Ale; Historic State Park IPA, and Undammed Huckleberry Seltzer.

“The San Francisco Giants genuinely want to raise awareness and partner with our causes — causes for which the Yurok Tribe has been on the frontline fighting,” Cooley said. “The craft beers that were chosen for the ballpark all speak to that fight. MRB beer stands alone in a decades-long history of excellence, having won numerous awards not limited to the Great American Beer Festival.”

Those three beers chosen have storied endeavors tied to those products. Cooley said the portfolio tells the story of the battles that are fought, and the products are marked by an unshakeable commitment to quality and dedication to craft.

“If you can sell amazing craft beer, be the change in tokenism and extend the audience of a story that needs to be heard, why would you not?” she asked.

READ MORE: Could Your Branding Be Driving Away Sales?

Thinking outside the box while searching for opportunities is the only way to stay relevant as a craft brewery, Cooley pointed out.

“We have big ambitions,” she said. “Creating our own Native American category is one goal we are laying the groundwork for, despite minimal and false representation on store shelves.

“For us, finding partners that not only believe in our beverage but stand up for inclusiveness is necessary for our story to reach others and make a lasting impact.”

Working with other Tribes that have casinos is a natural fit for a Tribal-owned brewery like Mad River, Cooley said, but it’s not traditional for other craft breweries.

Mad River has reached out to NFL and NBA teams, but Cooley said they haven’t had real traction with those yet.

“What has propelled us is the direction we are going, is the story of our products,” she said. “One of our beers, our Historic State Park IPA, is a beer named after the history-making work the Yurok Tribe and California State Parks are doing.

“The beer is endorsed by California State Parks, and it really was the beginning of the barrier-breaking. Telling hard truths on a can is not traditional for craft beer.”

When purchased in 2019, Yurok Agricultural Corporation recognized an opportunity to diversify the Tribe’s economic portfolio and drive economic success for the benefit of the Tribe and its members.

The Yurok Tribe, though the largest Tribe in California, is also one of the most economically disadvantaged Tribes in the state. Nonetheless, the brewery and other businesses owned by the Tribe have continued to extend the ethos of the Tribe, driving environmental stewardship​, a press release from earlier this year said​.

Each of the brewery’s new products ties back to that vision.

“We are elated to partner with the Giants. We couldn’t be prouder to partner with a team who continues to recognize and elevate Indigenous peoples,” said Toby Vanlandingham, President, YAC. “This partnership enriches our story, enhances our community, and ultimately supports tribal sovereignty.​”​

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.