Gatorade is a product that has become inseparable from sports in general and football in particular. PepsiCo, owner of the brand since 2001, has not only ensured the continued success of its partnership with the NFL, but has found a way for that success to spill over to its other brands.
The partnership that ties PepsiCo to the NFL—the most important sports league in the world in terms of revenue—today encompasses several of the food giant’s brands, including Pepsi, PepsiMax, Gatorade, Tostitos and Doritos. But though PepsiCo is a majority stakeholder in major league sponsorships in the United States (CFL, NHL, NBA, MLB), it’s the partnership between Gatorade and the NFL that stands out in our eyes.
This partnership, which officially began in 1983 (but the groundwork for which was laid in the 1960s), is one of the most impressive in the sporting world. It has played a huge role in the brand’s success today with the company owning 80% of market shares in the sports drink industry and generating two billion USD in gross annual sales.
To understand the strength of the association that exists between football and Gatorade, you have to go back to 1965 when the product first hit the market. In the summer of 1963, an assistant coach of the University of Florida football team—the Gators—called on the team doctors to find out why the players were experiencing discomfort and sometimes even collapsing during games. The medical team quickly arrived at their conclusion: the fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrates that the players were sweating out weren’t being replenished. This discovery led the doctors to create a drink that contained those substances so that the players could keep up their strength during the game. Hence the name “Gator-ade.”
Five decades later, nothing better symbolizes the unique connection between the league and the brand than the Gatorade dunk. This ritual, launched by the New York Giants in 1986, involves pouring a mix of Gatorade and ice on the winning team’s coach at the end of a big game. Bill Schmidt, former Vice-President of Worldwide Sports Marketing at Gatorade, apparently said: “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” when he witnessed this gift of free advertising. The company also is reported to have sent $1,000 in coupons to the first “victim” accompanied by the following note: “We do feel somewhat responsible for your cleaning bill.”
Among its sponsorship advantages, Gatorade enjoys visibility on the sidelines of every NFL team. This space is one of the most sought after in sport, as few brands ever enjoy pride of place there. This brings with it strong brand integration during televised broadcasts of the games, which is even more profitable because viewers can’t help but see it. Players are also constantly seen drinking the beverage during the game—a powerful tool to encourage the public to follow suit.
Co-branding and point-of-purchase promotions—an element of the sponsorship contract which takes place off the field—give PepsiCo an undeniable edge, as they exercise a strong influence on purchase intent in the categories where the company is active. During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, 250,000 promotional kiosks are set up across the United States.
The relationship has evolved a lot since its beginnings, especially from a marketing standpoint, but what made Gatorade a success back then is still valid today. The fact that the brand was created for the sport essentially made it destined to have a strong and relevant connection in—or more precisely, on—the field. The brand’s strong visibility and the perception that it is intimately linked with the act of playing sports help Gatorade assert its leadership position and dominate the category. Its main competitor, Powerade, is pretty much confined to college football and has to settle for supporting NFL athletes directly, which consumers could interpret as a position of weakness, hindering the brand’s growth.
Beyond all of this, Gatorade has shown a great deal of discipline when it comes to the relevance and longevity of its sponsorship portfolios, and that kind of focus generally pays off. In fact, the main takeaway of the sponsorship between Gatorade and the NFL is just that: focus. Concentrating your sponsorship portfolio in a single market can be very lucrative, just as supporting an emerging property and contributing to its success—even investing in the organization itself—can prove to be time and money very well spent.
Far from sitting on the laurels of their associations with major sports leagues, the Gatorade team is looking resolutely to the future, exploring new technology platforms that will help promote the science of sport. They have signed contracts with industry giants like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and even CoreSyte, a young company specialized in connected training tools.
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