When Oconomowoc's new minor league baseball stadium opens next spring it will be known as Wisconsin Brewing Company Park. The Verona-based craft brewer recently secured the naming rights to the 2,500-seat stadium under a six-year agreement with the Lake Country DockHounds -- the newest member of the American Association of Professional Baseball. The new stadium and adjacent 30,000-square-foot multi-use indoor sports facility are currently under construction at 977 Blue Ribbon Circle N., located at the Pabst Farms Blue Ribbon industrial park. The project is expected to be complete in time for play to begin in mid-May. On Tuesday, the team's ownership group -- Tom Kelenic, Tony Bryant, Sonny Bando and Tim Neubert -- held a groundbreaking ceremony to unveil the team’s logo and announce the stadium's name. Wisconsin Brewing Co.'s sponsorship had been in the works for about four years, thanks to a longtime friendship between Kelenic and Chris Rebholz, partner and board member at WBC. "We pretty much targeted each other once the approval process was starting," said Kelenic in an interview with BizTimes. "If we could get it done, he'd be there for us." The group had worked on plans for the stadium and team for about three years before the pandemic hit and delayed the process for nearly a year, he said, "Chris was very patient." What's more, the pandemic's devastating financial impact on the sports and entertainment industries could have derailed the launch of a new baseball team if there hadn't been a naming rights sponsor lined up and ready to take on the commitment, he added. Beyond the successful pairing of beer and baseball, at least in the world of sports business, the deal represents something greater for a brewery eyeing regional and statewide growth. "We had a definitive desire and need to gain more exposure in the four county area of southeastern Wisconsin, where about 40% of beer beverage consumption exists, and we didn't feel like we had an adequate footprint here," said Rebholz. Founded in 2013 by brothers Carl and Mark Nolen and brewmaster Kirby Nelson, WBC is currently producing at a rate of 20,000 barrels and 3 million cans of beer and hard seltzer annually. The brewery sells its products to businesses across the state as well as large national brands. It also operates a 300-person taproom and beer garden at its Verona brewing facility. At the new baseball stadium, WBC will both serve its beer and brew it in small batches. Rebholz said other collaborations are in the works, including transportation to and from the ballpark from various locations in Lake Country, as well as bringing national events to the stadium during the off season. "This is going to have a greater impact on the community than it will simply on Wisconsin Brewing Co. and the DockHounds organization," he said. The brewer sees this naming rights partnership as a "launch point" for its large-scale growth plans, both from a distribution and production standpoint. And with a brewing facility capable of producing up to 300,000 barrels annually, it has ground to stand on. "we've got plenty of room to grow; there's plenty of room at the brewery to support the stadium initiative and to sustain a statewide and regional expansion of our brand," said Rebholz. "This is the first of many steps that we're going to be taking to really grow the company and brand."
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