SBJ/January 14-20, 2013/Colleges

Coke Zero drinks up Bama win

Coke Zero’s 30-second congratulatory spot, which ran on ESPN in the moments after Alabama’s BCS championship win, would never have seen the light of day if the Crimson Tide had lost. And that would have been a shame.

The commercial features Terry Saban, the wife of Alabama’s football coach, as she tells the story of her husband’s ascension from graduate assistant to one of the most decorated coaches in college football history. More than anything, the spot shows a side of the hard-charging football coach that most don’t see, told only the way his wife of 40 years could tell it.

Alabama’s championship activated a Coke Zero ad that highlighted coach Nick Saban’s climb to the top of college football.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Coca-Cola is one of only two brands Nick Saban has endorsements deals with, and his wife supplied many of the pictures in the spot, including a wedding photo and a shot of Saban in front of a Coke delivery truck.

The genesis for the idea came from a series of discussions, starting with an exchange between Katie Bayne, president of North America brands for Coca-Cola North America, and Claude Nielsen, CEO of the Coca-Cola United bottling company in Birmingham. They talked in the days after Alabama’s win in the SEC championship on Dec. 1, which positioned the Crimson Tide to win its third national title in four years.

“It was during a casual conversation that Claude brought up the point that Alabama is moving into some unprecedented territory under Coach Saban and this is a great opportunity to take advantage of it,” said Brian Smith, director of marketing for the bottling company.

“Coca-Cola is always focused on the celebration, and this is very unique,” said Sharon Byers, Coke’s senior vice president of sports and entertainment marketing. “Having Terry participate gave it an authentic feel. It was a cool way to present Coach Saban and the achievements of Alabama.”

From there, Bayne reached out on Dec. 12 to one of Coke’s creative agencies, Atlanta-based Melt, which works almost exclusively on college business. Melt’s president, Vince Thompson, worked on a script that would put Nick’s wife, Terry, front and center in the spot.

They would run the commercial only if Alabama won. A stock Coke commercial would run if the Tide lost.

On short notice, Melt charged ahead, scheduling an interview with Terry Saban on Dec. 27 in a studio at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Crimson Tide plays its home games. She told stories of Saban as a Coca-Cola delivery truck driver, burning out two clutches one summer as he drove through the hills of West Virginia. She talked about the family’s 18 moves so that Saban could advance his coaching career. The chief challenge was distilling it down to 30 seconds.

A voice-over from Tom Roberts, host of Alabama’s call-in radio shows, was recorded on New Year’s Eve and production of the spot wrapped just days before the game, about a three-week turnaround during the holidays.

“Sharon and I basically spent the holidays together,” Smith joked.

After making its premiere on ESPN’s postgame show, the commercial will run on ESPN’s platforms and local stations across the state of Alabama, as well as YouTube.com, CokeZero.com and MyCokeRewards.com. The Coke Zero brand also will celebrate the Crimson Tide’s championship with special packaging.

Saban also endorses Ford.

PLAYOFF PLANNING: Marketers are eager to hear how ESPN will go to market with the new college football playoff, which begins with the 2014 season. Will title sponsors remain on each bowl? Will there be a title sponsorship to the national championship game? How much will it cost?

Some answers to these questions are beginning to come into focus.

Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS and the future playoff system, said there will not be a title sponsor for the national championship game when the playoffs begin with the 2014 season.

Expect the field for the national title game to keep a very clean look.

ESPN will continue to sell title sponsorships to the six bowls in the system that will rotate in the semifinals. The Orange, Sugar and Rose bowls are three of them. The other three will be selected this spring and are expected to be the Chick-fil-A, Fiesta and Cotton.

Title sponsors to those bowls will have a presence when their game is a semifinal in the playoff. A working title would be “The National Semifinals at the Discover Orange Bowl.”

Other rights, such as licensing and hospitality, will be sold individually for the national championship game. Each bowl will continue to sell those rights to their own game.

Additionally, Hancock said that the new playoff system is seeking office space in the Las Colinas area of Dallas. New COO Michael Kelly, hired from the ACC, starts on Tuesday and other staff will be hired over the course of the year. The playoff system will be seeking a CFO, communications director, an operations director and someone to oversee licensing and other revenue streams.

“We’re going to have a small staff of six to eight people, so we’re going to need some quarterbacks who can also punt,” Hancock said with a laugh.

Premier Sports Management of Overland Park, Kan., is consulting with the conference commissioners on a new name for the playoff system.

BCS HOSPITALITY: Alabama and Notre Dame fans were partying shoulder-to-shoulder in PrimeSport’s VIP pregame hospitality.

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth and his daughter, Alex, emceed the event, and several former players from both schools mingled with guests. The players included Rocket Ismail, Joe Theismann, Tim Brown and Brady Quinn from Notre Dame, and Mark Ingram, Marcell Dareus and Greg McElroy from Alabama.

The pregame event inside the climate-controlled section of Sun Life Stadium sold more than 1,000 tickets at $400 apiece and was one of several locations PrimeSport activated as the official hospitality provider for the Orange Bowl. The Orange Bowl deal includes rights to the BCS championship game in this current BCS cycle.

The Atlanta-based hospitality company also packaged tickets and hospitality with travel. New to its offerings this year was hospitality in Club Liv, the nightclub on Sun Life Stadium’s second level.

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