Cannabis retailer Verilife, breaking new ground in mainstream sports, has signed a year-long sponsorship with the Chicago Wolves that will put the company’s dispensary brand front and center at the hockey champ’s televised games.
The deal, a first between a professional team and a cannabis marketer, will stretch from the Wolves’ home stadium, Allstate Arena, to eight Chicago-area stores in Verilife’s chain to both partners’ digital and social platforms.
It was seamless because we had a template. We’d been building those muscles already.
—Erika Salgado Guerra, CMO, PharmaCann
The alliance is a coup for Verilife and its parent company, multistate operator PharmaCann, given the Wolves’ high-profile status as the recent Calder Cup winners in the American Hockey League. (It was the third championship since 2002). More than 900,000 fans attend and watch games, cumulatively, per season.
Breaking the grass ceiling
Though it’s not the major leagues—the Wolves are an affiliate of NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes—it’s a pioneering move from a cannabis company that has already collaborated with a sports legend. In summer 2021, Verilife signed beloved former Chicago Cubs star and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg as a local celebrity spokesman.
“Ryne opened the door for us, and these are baby steps but, if done properly, they can be a big step for where the industry is going,” Erika Salgado Guerra, chief marketing officer at PharmaCann, told Adweek. “Cannabis combining efforts with a smaller league is how we’ll get to the future.”
In fact, the Wolves approached Verilife after watching the Sandberg partnership for the last year-plus. The meeting between the retailer and the hockey team’s officials was “love at first sight,” said Salgado Guerra, who spent nearly 15 years at PepsiCo, calling it “one of the fastest approvals” in her career.
“It was seamless because we had a template,” she said. “We’d been building those muscles already.”
Beyond the Jumbotron
The brand will have a significant presence on-site at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, including the Jumbotron, scoreboard, digital banners, dashboards, LED screens and televisions in concourses and suites.
As part of the “advertising takeover,” Verilife will be mentioned during on-air announcements—noting that the Rosemont dispensary is within walking distance of the stadium—and as part of the crowd favorite “noise meter,” Salgado Guerra said.
There’s one caveat to the location-based hype: the word “cannabis” will be absent, per regulations for an audience that’s made up of all ages, including kids and families.
The retailer gets coveted real estate on the Wolves’ 70,000-strong email lists and banners on the team’s website. On-site hospitality means that Verilife can entertain suppliers, clients and friends on game days.
The sponsorship—which has an option to renew after a year—includes a “Score for Charity” component that raises money for a local nonprofit, Facing Forward to End Homelessness.
Verilife, which leans heavily on digital and experiential marketing, has been digging deeper into sports and music as ways to reach cannafans and potential customers.
Though experiential activations haven’t been planned yet, they could include events and merchandise with the Wolves’ players, focused mostly on the Rosemont store.
“This is a big brand awareness and engagement play,” Salgado Guerra said. “And we’re going to use it to build positive associations with the Wolves’ fans.”