Despite flopping in its inaugural year, the Untappd Beer Festival is returning to Bank of America Stadium, and organizers want to make it right. They also want to make it bigger. Could it become Charlotte’s quintessential craft beer event, or will it become a punchline again?
Several prominent local breweries are betting on success.
NoDa Brewing owners Suzie and Todd Ford, for instance, had a long conversation with the Untappd team about what went wrong after last year’s festival. There were the long lines, a cup shortage, the awkward setup, and the lack of contingency plans when a line of thunderstorms moved over the open-air stadium. Untappd, which planned last year’s event in about two and a half months, ended up refunding people about $120,000.
But after their conversation with organizers, the Fords were convinced that the troubles would be fixed. So NoDa signed on for another year, and a second chance.
“It was certainly fun for us to be pouring on the Panthers field,” Suzie told me.
Untappd is a Wilmington startup known for its beer app that lets users track their favorite brews and breweries.
Its leadership team says it’s made sweeping changes to ensure that the festival runs smoothly. For one, it hired a director of festivals and live events in Talia Spera, who previously oversaw entertainment at MGM Resorts International. A few years ago, she helped open the $1 billion MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts.
“It is important to us to prove that the team we’ve assembled in-house, led by Talia, instead of relying on a third party event production partner like last year, can do this properly,” Untappd chief operating officer Trace Smith told the Agenda.
Right away, Spera identified several “easy fixes” to improve the Untappd event, including:
- A durable turf cover on the field to allow crews to move beer and equipment more easily.
- The turf cover will allow for food trucks on the field this year.
- On-field entertainment will include music and yard games such as cornhole.
- A weather contingency plan will send everybody to the concourse, including the brewery tents, to keep the festival going.
Perhaps the biggest change will be splitting the events into two sessions — one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Each of the two sessions will have the capacity for 8,000 people, making this year’s event bigger than last year’s, which sold out of all 12,500 available tickets.
“It’ll allow us to better manage the crowd, the lines, the entry, the egress, and then also give our customers more time to engage with their favorite breweries,” Spera told me. “Lines were so long last year I think people felt pressured to grab their beer, chug it, and move along.”
Long-term, Untappd plans to host one festival per month all over the world, Spera said.
Charlotte, a beer-loving city with close to 40 breweries, has an uneven track record for hosting big beer festivals.
The most successful over the past decade has been the South End Hops Fest, typically held in late spring. The Hops Fest was large, but still quaint compared to something like the Untappd festival: It had more than 50 breweries and raised funds for a local dog rescue.
Last year, Hops Fest was held two weeks after Untappd’s beer fest. It sold only about 800 tickets, half of its usual number. Third Rock Events owner Shawn Cosner, who runs the South End festival, said people don’t need two big back-to-back beer events. That’s why he’s decided to discontinue the South End Hops Fest.
“It’s really good, but man, you could be drinking on the field at Bank of America Stadium,” Cosner said. “There is such a thing as saturation in beer festivals.”
The Charlotte Knights held a beer festival at BB&T Ballpark in 2014 and 2015. (You may recall Creative Loafing’s chronicle of the eventful night had by Joe Gillespie, who drunkenly stole the Knights’ mascot costume and partied around Charlotte in it after the festival’s last year.)
For now, “nothing is finalized” regarding another beer festival at BB&T Ballpark, Knights spokesman Tommy Viola said in an email.
Moo & Brew has hosted a beer festival in mid April for the past few years; this year the event will be about two weeks earlier, on April 4. “What better way to kick off spring in the QC than hanging with your friends and enjoying burgers, brews, music and good times??” the website reads.
A successful Untappd festival has the potential to benefit both local breweries and the Carolina Panthers, too.
“Given our limited distribution area, it was great having people from outside Charlotte come looking for us specifically,” Suzie Ford, NoDa Brewing’s owner, said.
Last year’s beer fest, the first of its kind at Bank of America Stadium, was the Panthers’ first venture into non-NFL events under new owner David Tepper. Since buying the team in 2018, Tepper has repeatedly said he wants the stadium used all year-round.
Tepper’s team announced a number of highly anticipated events at the stadium in the past year, including the Mexican national soccer team’s U.S. tour, the International Champions Cup, and concerts like Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, and Mötley Crüe.
Hosting Untappd helped the stadium crew learn to prepare for the worst but hope for the best, Panthers COO Mark Hart told me.
Stadiums become more attractive to promoters like Live Nation after they host high-profile non-NFL events, Spera said.
“The more diversity in programming that the stadium can get, it’s only going to open more doors for Charlotte,” she said.