The following column appears in print and digital versions of the November 2015 issue of Dairy Herd Management.
As a former NFL tight end, Mark Inkrott is no stranger to professional sports. He quickly learned that hard work was the name of the game…something he valued in the dairy farm families he worked for after his football career. Inkrott has dedicated his post-football career to connecting agriculture and millions of sports fans across the country. Let's find out how he's doing that.
DHM: What's your background?
MARK INKROTT: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My grandfather farmed, so I grew up around livestock and ag production my whole life. As a kid, I would ride with my father in the summer, hauling feed to farmers from our family's mill, where my dad still works today.
I went to a small college and was a longshot at the National Football League (NFL), but I had the goal of playing professionally. I bounced around for a few years – with the Carolina Panthers, the New York Giants, and then one season with NFL Europe in Cologne, Germany. It really gave me an opportunity to travel the world and afforded me the chance to do something I loved.
After some injuries and some tough luck playing football, it was time to move on. Sports is what I knew and loved, and I considered going into coaching, but ultimately my career path led me to Ohio's local dairy checkoff program, working in schools and with the Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign. It was absolutely perfect for me, and some of my best memories are working with farmers in Ohio and bringing the Fuel Up to Play 60 program to the schools and communities where I grew up.
After finishing graduate school in Ohio, I accepted a position with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) in Chicago, where I worked on the NFL and Fuel Up to Play 60 teams. But I really found my niche on the communications team rolling out the first-ever digital and social media programs for DMI, positioning farmers to have a voice and drive conversation.
DHM: How can you make a business getting farmers onto the field?
INKROTT: Ag is misunderstood. Having both sports and an ag background, I fielded dozens of sponsorship proposals from sports agencies and companies while working for DMI. After reading all these sponsorship proposals, I realized there was a significant gap in how the sports industry perceived agriculture.
Sports is the common thread. The two industries are not that far apart, but they're speaking two different languages. If I can surround myself with good people who share my passion for sports and agriculture, we can build a company around the economic impact of connecting those two industries.
Sports sponsorship works for tires, speakers, phones and financial services, and these organizations see the reward of sponsorship and activation programs. They may not exclusively be looking to align themselves with sports, but rather to an engaged audience. We can do that with agriculture and what's happening on a farm, as well. We can use a sports platform and audience to tell an agriculture story. If it's done well, it will be valuable for many stakeholders.
DHM: Should we have been doing this already? What do you hope to accomplish?
INKROTT: It may have been easier 20 years ago. Today more of us are removed from agriculture and the farm. There's a lot of confusion, Internet noise and self-selected experts. We have to work harder and smarter.
The NFL has the Monday morning quarterback; the fan who has never played a down or coached a game, but uses social media and the local radio show to complain and tell everyone who will listen what the team should do differently. Agriculture has the Monday morning dietitian and farmer; the activist who has never been on a farm or read a dietetics study claiming to be an expert in the field.
At UpField, our goal is to serve farmers and the sports community by connecting them and accurately depicting where food comes from.
UpField Group is an agri-sports consulting and marketing firm specializing in facilitating ‘Farm to Stadium" programs. Visit http://www.upfieldgroup.com/.