How the Most Fun Team in Sports Used a QR Code Jersey to Connect Fans Worldwide (Through Beer)
After a season of games played in front of empty stadiums, Forward Madison F.C. was looking for a new way to connect fans and soccer lovers all over the world.
Any soccer fan can tell you how exciting the yearly kit (soccer speak for "uniform") unveiling is. That’s one of the coolest thing about the game: Each year, teams get completely new kit designs.
Forward Madison has always prided itself on its out-there design work on kits, adopting tropical colors and over-the-top patterns incongruous with its chilly Midwest locale. The team uses a flamingo in its official logo, for example.
They had already unveiled their reversible kit for this year, a first for U.S. soccer, but they also had a design they really liked that didn’t have a home yet. They also were still thinking of ways to bring fan engagement back after the pandemic.
The answer was a QR code.
“We have a good design team,” Conor Caloia, chief operating officer for Forward Madison, told Promo Marketing over a Zoom call. “We’ve always tried to do things a little differently. For the last, I’d say 12, 18 months, we’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a QR code on some piece of apparel, whether it be a kit or whatever it might be. We kind of zeroed in on an alternate kit—so not a traditional kit, but one of our extra kits we’d wear during our friendly matches.”
Thus, the “Friends With Benefits” kit was born. By scanning the QR code, fans all over the world can purchase a beer for a fan in attendance at Breese Stevens Field in Madison.
It’s quite simple really:
✅Buy the kit
✅Scan the code
✅Purchase a Beer
✅Make someone’s day.
Connect global communities by paying it forward 🍺
— Forward Madison FC (@ForwardMSNFC) August 28, 2021
How sick is that jersey? I have a nice little collection of soccer jerseys and I immediately started picturing this in the closet.
Anyway, let’s say you walk up to the register for a beer of your own. Since other fans have “paid it forward,” you actually receive two beers, as well as your new friend’s name and social media handle.
Turbo loves beer so Turbo talks about how Beer Boards at Breese works. Turbo excited to talk about the most basic joys in life: Soccer and beers.
Get on the Beer Boards through the QR code on your FWB kit 🙌 pic.twitter.com/byvwNGhvd8
— Forward Madison FC (@ForwardMSNFC) August 28, 2021
“I think where this story ultimately ends is the idea of connecting people through beer, soccer and kits,” Caloia said. “We had this idea over the last six months to have the QR code lead to the ability to purchase a beer at our stadium, and then ultimately connect two random people, whether it be from Madison to Madison or Madison to London, or anywhere around the world. The idea behind doing this is that it’s more than just a kit, it’s a way to connect people through soccer and beer, and use technology to do it.”
“Obviously, for most of 2020, we had an empty stadium,” said Chase Eagan, director of marketing for Forward Madison. “This whole thought process with the QR code to connect people did stem from kind of the pandemic and the shutdowns and the missed connections, being able to enjoy a soccer game with people.”
Last year was the start of the QR Code Renaissance. QR codes weren’t a new invention by any stretch, but the pandemic forced us all to use them more than we maybe ever had, thanks to businesses minimizing touch points at restaurants and in retail locations. They also became more accessible, with scanning tech now built into the iPhone's camera app rather than requiring a special reader.
We’re all a lot more familiar with QR codes at this point, so there wasn’t much of a risk of wasting ink and jersey space on something no one would use.
“I don’t know if we would have even done it with [QR codes] not being as relevant as they are today,” Eagan added. “We probably wouldn’t have done this without the pandemic, and obviously QR codes being a way businesses were able to pivot to be flexible and still kind of get people to see menus, see different pieces going out, we took it a step further with connecting people on social.”
As for the design and the decoration itself, the QR code lives on an alternate jersey design that the Forward Madison front office referred to as “Disco Picnic.” They loved the design, which uses flashy pinks and blues on an almost-gingham crosshatch pattern (hence the name), but didn’t really have anywhere to use it.
Through a partnership with U.K. sportswear retailer Classic Football Shirts, Forward Madison brought the design to life and launched it across the pond at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, creating an even wider network of fans buying each other beers, all thanks to a tiny QR code on a shirt.
Cop the kit
Open your camera app
You’re almost there…
Scan the QR code pic.twitter.com/tPpOOUrIiF
— Forward Madison FC (@ForwardMSNFC) August 29, 2021
When it came time to placing the QR code, the team worked with their supplier, Hummel, about how to approach the whole thing. Right off the bat, Hummel was into the idea, telling them that if they can sublimate it, they can place it onto a kit.
“There were a bunch of different steps we had to get through to make the technical piece work,” Eagan said. “But, again, this is something we hope to see live on for not just one season. We do see this QR code becoming part of our brand—the Friends with Benefits kind of beer board and this tech piece to bring people together. I think it’s something that’s going to hopefully live on for years to come.”
Forward Madison’s motto on social media is “Playing soccer and having fun with it.” That obviously extends far beyond the pitch. You might remember Forward Madison being mentioned on this very website when they used potatoes with the crest taped on as a promotional item.
Since that release in 2019, the team has expanded its promo offering with things like candles, lawn flamingos, coffee, gravy boats, and a partially eaten potato duct taped to the wall (available for nearly a quarter-million dollars).
After consulting with our in-house art expert, we have decided that our potato art is now more valuable after having been bitten into yesterday.
Accordingly, we've decided to double the price, which means you can now buy Partially Eaten Potato Art for $240,000 on our web store.
— Forward Madison FC (@ForwardMSNFC) December 21, 2019
When so many sports teams are trying to find ways to connect with fans and take the sting out of COVID regulations, Forward Madison managed to keep the game fun for everyone, whether they were at the stadium or not.
“When we did our local launch here in Madison, we had about 100 people there, and I was just kind of shocked at the look on people’s faces and how almost touched people were about this idea of connecting,” Caloia said. “I think there’s a lot of pieces to this: There’s the tech piece, there’s the beer piece, there’s the kit piece, there’s the London launch. But I think the thing that’s surprised me on this launch is just how much people have missed connecting, and this idea of connecting with new friends or new people around the game of soccer, just to see people sign right up right away and immediately try to connect with random people they’ve never met over this club and soccer is pretty cool. It’s been pretty fulfilling.”
Isn’t that the whole goal of sports?
“It connects people that have a mutual interest that otherwise would never meet.”