Brand extension is an issue with which many fast-growing companies struggle. How do you seize upon a successful brand image without straying too far from what earned that customer loyalty in the first place?

As you may recall, my last post paid homage to Harry Olivieri, the co-inventor of the Philadelphia cheesesteak, who recently passed away at age 90. So it should perhaps come as little surprise that it's another meat-related story that has caught my eye today. (Apologies to you vegans out there) The Boston Globe reports that the New England Patriots are rolling out a new line of hot dogs, bratwurst, and sausages named after the team. At Gillette Stadium, and soon at supermarkets too, Pats fans will be able to pick up "Patriots First Down Beef Franks" and "Patriots Sack Attack Mild Italian Sausage."

What does a football team know about processed meats? Well, if you've ever strolled through the parking lot at an NFL game, it starts to make sense. Portly fellas tailgating with a red-hot grill and ice-cold beer is about as much an American institution as, well, the hot dog itself. Football, and sports in general, have made the "fan experience" almost as central a focus as what happens on the field. It's what keeps fans -- and even non-fans -- coming back. You may not know Tom Brady from Tedy Bruschi, but you'll probably remember that tasty brat you had in the parking lot.

Sure, the Patriots may turn a tidy profit on their new culinary venture -- executives are already mulling plans for Patriots hamburgers, chicken wings, ketchup, and more -- but this idea is probably more about reinforcing the team's brand anyway. As Jon Hickey, of the Mullen marketing agency, says in the Globe piece, "I can't believe I'm saying this about branded meat, but it makes a lot of sense. It shows they support the things their fans enjoy."

The branded meat concept is not altogether new -- NASCAR launched its own line of meat last year (yes, even bologna) and the Patriots' baseball compatriots, the Boston Red Sox, blessed the world with "Fenway Franks" years ago. But I have a feeling this is going to catch on throughout the NFL and across other sports. Smart companies, no matter the industry, always keep an eye on what their customers want -- and identify opportunities to fill that demand themselves.

So what's the craziest brand extension you've come across?