At first thought, a more than 50-year-old brand of beef jerky from Forest Grove, Ore., and college sports might not seem to have much in common. Yet Old Trapper has made sponsorships across college sports programming a top marketing priority and a way for the brand to connect to consumers and support athletes.

It’s not an uncommon effort, either. Several brands are tapping sports audiences to grow their consumer base and build a sense of community among brand followers.

Jerky scores

This year has represented Old Trapper’s sixth consecutive season as a sponsor of college basketball on CBS Sports Network, an endeavor that includes acting as the presenting sponsor of live college basketball coverage one night per week in addition to being spotlighted in Player of the Game features and “Inside College Basketball” studio coverage on the network during both the regular season and bracket week.

“Old Trapper jerky is a favorite snack of sports fans, and the demographic makes up one of our key customer segments,” said Robert Leary, chief marketing officer. “Extending our presence at sports games where our consumer base is just makes good sense. Fans like to snack, and more and more they want it to be higher in protein and lower in sugar, so they turn to Old Trapper for their game day experience.”

The company also has a partnership with the Pac-12 Conference as the “Official Beef Jerky” of the conference with promotions at events across different sports, including at its tennis championship last year where it supplied student-athletes and fans with jerky. The brand was also promoted across Pac-12 social channels during the tennis tournament.

July marked the beginning of multi-year agreement for Old Trapper with the Big 12 Conference to serve as a presenting sponsor of Big 12 Football Media Days and Big 12 Basketball Media Days in addition to a program on the streaming service ESPN+. The brand in turn has enjoyed engagement through the conference’s social and digital channels as well as visibility at championship events.

The brand has also established a relationship with the Big Ten Conference to be an official sponsor of football, men’s baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, and hockey. Old Trapper has been highlighted as the official beef jerky of the conference and featured in 30-second spots across the Big Ten Network’s linear and digital platforms as well as included in conference signage at championships and tournaments.

“We choose partnerships based on exposure and activations with each opportunity and the ability to build visibility and reach to our customers,” Leary said. “We also take into account the support these partnerships provide our retailers in reaching consumers at the national level. But above all, we imagine ourselves in the fans’ seat and if we can see ourselves cheering with them, then we know we are on the right track.”

Paris Cut 2.jpgThe Ohio State left tackle, Paris Johnson Jr., promotes Charqui Jerky Co.'s Paris' Cut with a name, image and likeness. (NIL) agreement. (Source: Charqui Jerky Co.)


Old Trapper also partners with Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers and the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League. The brand also has visibility on sports talk radio through The Jim Rome Show and outdoors programming on North American Whitetail.

“These partnerships have developed as we have worked to establish a key presence throughout sports programming to interact with our consumers and support our retailers by driving exposure in this key market,” Leary said.

Brand promotion is the main priority of the partnerships, so they don’t focus on a specific product, Leary said. The goal is to raise awareness of the brand’s entire line from their traditional beef jerky to their beef sticks. Brand exposure usually includes signs, social media posts and commercials in addition to contests, mascot meetings, giveaways, and sampling at events.

Overall, the investments represent a strategic part of Old Trapper’s marketing mix including finances, staff, time, research, product and media support.

“Strengthening and expanding our partnerships in the sports market will remain a priority in our marketing efforts,” Leary said. “The overall goal is to support the teams and athletes, while increasing visibility and reach of the Old Trapper brand.”

Joining rosters

Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Va., is well established in NASCAR racing with a long-term partnership with driver Aric Almirola and Stewart-Haas Racing. 2023 marks the 12th consecutive year of the partnership with Almirola, and Smithfield will be the anchor partner of his No. 10 Ford Mustang for the largest allotment of races since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018.

The opportunity allows a spokesperson to introduce the brand to viewers on the national platform and develop a connection with customers.

Online meat delivery company Good Ranchers, Friendswood, Texas, is a sponsor at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2023 in addition to partnering with driver Scott McLaughlin and the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Olli Salumeria, Oceanside, Calif., is the official protein snack of Major League Rugby, a partnership the two parties describe as built on mutual values of history and tradition. The partnership allows for the incorporation of Olli products across the entire league in addition to the day-to-day operations of teams.

Meat District has introduced The Chomp Burger in partnership with the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams. The product is made from chuck, brisket, and short-rib angus beef in co-branded packaging with the football team’s logo.

Smithfield 3 smaller.jpgNASCAR driver Aric Almirola and Smithfield Foods are entering their 12th year of partnership. (Source: Stewart-Haas Racing)


“We are a Los Angeles and Southern California-based company,” said Erik Litmanovich, chief executive officer of parent company Golden West Food Group. “Celebrating and supporting the communities we serve is and will always be the most important thing to us.”

As a part of the partnership, Meat District will also be featured in Rams content on digital, radio and social channels as well as at training camp.

Other partnerships include Ambassador Meats’, a brand of Land O’ Frost, sponsorship of the US Pond Hockey Championship, and Certified Piedmontese’s association with IRONMAN races. Brands are even venturing into name, image, and likeness agreements with Charqui Jerky Company using Ohio State University left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. to promote a new product called Paris’ Cut.

These partnerships pave the way for more to come as brands discover the potential of tapping an established community for their products with opportunities to build loyalty.

“We have a lot of fun when people say that Old Trapper is the college football beef jerky, but supporting all the athletes in the college conferences by sponsoring television and streaming exposure for them is a great way to authentically support good causes while also reaching our core fan base,” Leary said. “Put simply, when our fan base and the partner fan base is the same, it’s an easy decision to make.”