When a sports fan heads to the stadium to cheer on their favorite team, it is safe to say that one of the last things on their minds is agriculture. But, thanks to some help from an Ohio farm boy turned NFL football player, the ways those in the stands think about farming and how it correlates with many aspects of the sporting event they are attending are changing.
Behind that concept is Ohioan Mark Inkrott, who grew up in Glandorf with a long agricultural family history behind him. His grandfather converted a flour mill to a grain elevator that has been in the family since 1942. In fact, Inkrott’s father still delivers feed to farmers throughout Putnam County.
“When I was a kid, whenever I wasn’t in school I was in my dad’s bulk truck,” Inkrott said. “That’s when I got to know all of the farmers and found out what they did and started to understand everything that goes into food production.”
Although Inkrott has never forgotten those lessons from his rural neighbors, his life’s journey took him far away from home. He followed a career in football, which began at the college level at the University of Findlay and then professionally with the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants. He even spent time on the gridiron in Europe.
After hanging up the cleats, Inkrott came back to Ohio to attend graduate school and then found himself back in the industry where he started.
“When I think back to when I was younger and thinking about what was ahead, I didn’t think agriculture would be where I ended up in my career,” Inkrott said. “It’s funny how you end up where you’re supposed to be and be working with farmers again has been very rewarding in the sense that they are value-based people who know what hard work is.”
After working in the dairy industry for a while, Inkrott came up with a concept to fill what he saw as a need for agriculture. So he and a business partner, a fellow Glandorf native, founded UpField Group, a sports marketing and consulting firm specializing in agriculture and farm to stadium programs. The team also consists of a farm policy specialist and a rancher’s daughter. Together they bring a unique skill set to their agricultural endeavor and have teamed up with associations ranging from the NFL Alumni to Mossy Creek Outfitters and Dairy Management Incorporated.
“At one point in my life I just assumed that everyone across the country knew where food comes from but that certainly isn’t the case,” Inkrott said. “After my football career it occurred to me that sports have a powerful platform to be influential and to tell great stories about agriculture and food production.”
UpField Group specifically saw the most potential in the stadiums, which already are used to deliver messages from the teams on the field and from the sponsors that are plastered all around the venue.
“Sports transcend throughout the community and it brings people together,” Inkrott said. “No matter what your political stance is, or your background or beliefs, when you go to a ballgame we can all agree on the team we are rooting for.”
Inkrott said that when he did play football in cities like Charlotte and New York, he noticed things that very few people around him might have picked up on.
“The first time I went to an NFL game, I was playing in it and even then I recognized the agriculture component to a ballgame,” Inkrott said. “As fans were enjoying a cold beer I knew that there were hops and barley farmers somewhere that made that possible. The same goes for hot dogs, popcorn and lemonade and the examples go on and on.”
The vision of UpField Group is to make those connections to food and sports easier to see for everyone involved, closing the many gaps that are in between farmers and consumers.
“Consumers, in general, are confused about their food and more labels and misleading marketing aren’t helping,” Inkrott said. “Transparency about how food is made is trendy and so is buying local, especially in urban markets and that is where UpField Group can come in and share the messages that people need to hear about farming and its misconceptions. Sports is a great platform for that.”
And UpField Group believes that message should come from no one else but the farmer, so they have developed a strategic alliance with ag accounting firm K Coe Isom to help give consumers a 360-degree view of the farm through their many farmer clients.
“The information we glean through this partnership is allowing us to create fact-based marketing and go find new opportunities in new markets,” Inkrott said. “We can meet with companies like a brewery, for example, and introduce them to a farmer and the corn crop they raise, their sustainability record and value of their message and offer that brewery a great ambassador and face for where their product comes from.
“Then, we can do an event at that brewery with the farmer and he can talk about what happens on his farm, giving the consumer confidence and trust and a great image of where the product comes from.”
On a bigger scale, UpField Group sees potential in making the farmer-to-consumer connection inside sporting arenas by placing producers on the Jumbotron to share what they farm to make the spectator’s experience that much more enjoyable.
“Consumers are smarter than ever and they have access to more information than ever before so there’s no trick marketing and no gimmicks in what we are doing here,” Inkrott said. “Since the core values of a farmer are honesty and hard work, helping them tell their story will be the best way to regain the trust of the American consumer.”