News Column

Steelers Trade Coke for Pepsi

July 24, 2012

Teresa F. Lindeman

Pepsi

Earlier this summer, the Philadelphia Eagles announced they had traded Pepsi for Coke, making the case that the switch would make their team stronger and generally a better corporate citizen.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers announced Monday that they have traded Coke for Pepsi, they said the deal will help them bulk up -- not just with soft drinks but with cereal and juice, too.

In the soft drink version of the draft, change seems to be afoot in the National Football League this season. Earlier this year, the Chicago Bears looked beyond the obvious choices and signed a deal with the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group that will perhaps involve spontaneous dancing at Soldier Field.

Such switches are not unusual, said Jim Andrews, a senior vice president with Chicago sponsorship consulting firm IEG, as teams reconsider their market priorities or get a better offer from a competing beverage company. Coke and Pepsi have been rivals for decades, each one working to outplay the other.

In the case of the Steelers, the team's long-term deal with Coca-Cola was expiring, so management asked the two soft drink rivals to bring their best proposals.

"It was a tough decision," said Tony Quatrini, director of marketing for the Steelers, who remembers the iconic Mean Joe Greene commercial for Coke in the late 1970s and had only good things to say about the team's more-than-four-decade relationship with the soft drink giant.

But Pepsi's game plan appealed to team management, including bringing in the company's other brands such as Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana. Financial details of the agreement weren't released.

The company won't be selling cereal or orange juice at Heinz Field but the marketing team could put the Steelers logo on a box of Cap'n Crunch or do some fun promotions with Naked Juice.

And the next time the Steelers win the Super Bowl, any PepsiCo products would have full rights to celebrate the "Super Bowl Champions" because the soft drink giant also has a partnership with the National Football League. After the last Steelers win in 2009, commemorative Coke cans couldn't use restricted terms like "Super Bowl."

"The NFL is a key strategic partner of ours," said Todd Kaplan, director of sports marketing of Pepsi.

He declined to detail what sort of promotions the company plans to cook up with the Steelers -- that's all still being worked out -- but PepsiCo's 2011 deal with the NFL called for creating digital fan engagement concepts for younger fans and establishing a joint innovation task force charged with "developing new food and beverage concepts for fans as well as sideline innovations and enhancements to health and safety for athletes."

As part of the change, the Great Hall area inside Heinz Field no longer carries the Coca-Cola name, but it could pick up a new sponsor. "We're in the course of having conversations with other companies," Mr. Quatrini said.

The switch to Pepsi products has already been made at Heinz Field, where people who attended the Kenny Chesney concert a few weeks ago got Sierra Mist and not Sprite. Mr. Quatrini said there were no complaints, although "there were some eyebrows raised" because of the team's long-term relationship with Coke.

This fall, plans call for a rollout of a special Pepsi Max can commemorating the team's 80th year. That's the sort of thing that the company has done with another of its NFL teams -- the Cleveland Browns.

Coca-Cola still dominates the U.S. market for carbonated soft drinks with a 41.9 share in 2011, according to industry publication Beverage Digest, compared to PepsiCo's 28.5 share.

But Pittsburgh could be a sweet spot for Pepsi.

In 2009, a company marketing official indicated southwestern Pennsylvania was among its top 20 markets. Mr. Kaplan couldn't offer more recent data, but he also described the region as a strong market for Pepsi.

Even as he celebrated his company's new deal, Mr. Kaplan began wooing the Pittsburgh fans, promising, "We're excited to really go deep with the Steelers."



Source: (c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by MCT Information Services


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