KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As food and sports have both evolved separately and together, today’s fans have almost endless choices of the fare they choose to indulge in at stadiums across the country and around the world including pizza, barbecue, gourmet sandwiches and of course hot dogs and sausages.

“Hot dogs and baseball do have a long history dating back to 1893 when sausages became the standard fare at baseball parks,” says Eric Mittenthal, vice president, public affairs, North American Meat Institute, and president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. “This tradition is believed to have been started by a St. Louis bar owner, Chris Von de Ahe, a German immigrant who also owned the St. Louis Browns major league baseball team. It was a home run pairing from the start as baseball and hot dogs kind of grew up together as American icons.

“Hot dogs at baseball games are attractive not only because of the history and ease of buying from a vendor and enjoying at your seat, but also because it’s something we all grew up with,” he adds. “There’s a certain nostalgic connection that when you go to a ballgame, you have to have a hot dog.”

It’s hard to nail down the very first sports sponsorship, who the parties involved were, the details of the agreement, etc., and sports sponsorships cover a broad range of definitions that make it even more difficult to trace back. What we do know is that today, sports sponsorship is big business, and that business is competitive.

Recently the Milwaukee Brewers replaced Milwaukee-based Klement’s Sausage with Johnsonville LLC, headquartered in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, after a 25-year partnership. A Brewer’s press release said Johnsonville had been the official sausage of the Brewers from 1978 to 1988.

Keith Smith, vice president of sponsorships for Chicago-based Vienna Beef says the company has been sponsoring teams and venues for longer than he’s worked there, “…and that’s 25 years.” Each sponsorship deal is unique. Sometimes Vienna Beef sponsors the team. Sometimes it sponsors the venue, and sometimes both. It all depends on the objectives of the team or venue. Vienna Beef also has objectives when it comes to sponsorship deals.

Other sports have taken baseball’s lead and ventured into sports sponsorship. Roush Fenway Racing and NASCAR driver Ryan Newman have teamed up with Oscar Mayer for six races this season starting with the Daytona 500. The partnership will also include races in Phoenix on March 10, Charlotte on May 26, Chicago on June 30, Loudon on July 21 and Darlington on Sept. 1.

Read more about sports sponsorships in the Hot Dog and Sausage Report in the February issue of MEAT+POULTRY.