Brooklyn's own Rheingold Beer was inextricably tied to the New York Mets and sponsored Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson's broadcasts. In Detroit, when local brewer Stroh's replaced its cross-town rival Goebel's as the Tigers' beer sponsor in 1959, it not only plastered its name all over Tiger Stadium, but canned the Tigers' old announcer in favor of the now-legendary Ernie Harwell. At the height of these sponsorships in the 1950s and '60s, they just made sense. The brewers were local names that fans would already know and have access to and they were tied to teams that had the same sort of regional appeal. That all went away, however, as consolidation and buyouts reduced the number of breweries in the U.S. from 703 in the mid-1930s to just 80 by the late 1970s, with just a handful of the largest breweries accounting for the overwhelming majority of beer produced. SAM) and Petaluma, Calif.-based Lagunitas are in the same economic ballpark. Lyons, Colo.-based Oskar Blues, which was founded little more than a decade ago and recently expanded to an East Coast brewery in Brevard, N.C., isn't quite as big as any of the above, but had no issue buying itself an official beer sponsorship at Charlotte Motor Speedway for NASCAR races and other events. The Craft Brew Alliance ( BREW), meanwhile, has been making its presence known in Major League Soccer by signing up its Widmer Brothers beers as a Portland Timbers sponsor and producing a beer for the Seattle Sounders' Empire Supporters' Club through its Redhook brewery. As older small brewers such as Boulevard, which started brewing in Kansas City in 1989, and more intrepid upstarts start making the connection between their small regional brewery and local sports franchises, there may find a surprising amount of room for their brands and beers at stadiums and ballparks. As mentioned earlier, the big brewers have reduced themselves to a two-party system in the U.S. While they've shown little evidence that they'll part with their big, league-wide beer sponsorships or exclusivity deals for events such as the Super Bowl, the Royals example shows their vulnerability in smaller markets and among lower-profile teams. Does that mean craft beer purist Greg Koch could be swayed to put his Stone Brewing brand on billboards in Petco Park during Padres games? Maybe not, but with San Francisco's Anchor Brewing already taking up prime real estate at the Giants' AT&T ( T) park and building another brewery right near the parking lot, small brewers' leap to the big leagues isn't as long as it appears. -- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.