Soda Scene: Coca-Cola out as MLB national sponsor; Pepsi on verge of grabbing Eagles
With the long-standing enmity between Major League Baseball and its union as evident as ever, we’re increasingly pessimistic about whether MLB diamonds will be operational this year, with or without fans. If the game does return to its fields of dreams, it will be without Coca-Cola as a national MLB sponsor. Atlanta’s beverage of choice quietly failed to renew its national MLB sponsorship rights early this year, more because of budgetary concerns than anything else, a source familiar with Coke’s marketing tells us.
Coke has held the majority of MLB team sponsorships for some time, but with teams’ digital and social media rights firmly controlled by the league, Coke signed a deal garnering it league rights just before the beginning of the 2017 season.
Pepsi already has league sponsorship rights with the NBA, NFL and NHL. With Snapple also failing to renew with MLB, the door was open for Pepsi, an MLB corporate patron from 1997 until Coke took over the category rights three years ago, to return. Then the pandemic hit, closing many of Pepsi’s retail and restaurant channels of distribution. Given the current state of affairs across the overall economy and the sports economy, we’d surmise that the carbonated soft drink category will remain open at MLB this season — if there is one.
■ WEARING OF THE GREEN: Eight years after Coke displaced Pepsi as a corporate sponsor of the Philadelphia Eagles, the tables have been turned: Pepsi has regained exclusive soda rights with the team, in a deal that we’re told is all but completed.
The Eagles had been with Coke since 2012, and Pepsi’s prior sponsorship with the team was for nine years, dating from the team’s 2003 move into Lincoln Financial Field.
Under the new deal, Pepsi takes over naming rights to the more than 100,000-square-foot plaza just inside Lincoln Financial Field’s main entrance, which has been known as HeadHouse Plaza and will henceforth be Pepsi Plaza.
As with every new deal these days, content rights are more clearly delineated, and, with an eye toward possible fan-less or reduced-fan games, possible make-goods are more clearly specified.
Another intriguing development for this, or any beverage sponsorship across sports, is what post-COVID beverage service at sports venues will become. “You have to believe we’re heading towards the end of fountain beverage and tap beer,” said a marketer from a different team. “That shifts some marketing activation from cups to bottles, but it’s a lot less complex as far as running [beverage] lines in the stadium.” The flip-flop of soda rights means Pepsi has every NFC East team.
■ COMINGS & GOINGS: Bill Hudock, a member of the SBJ Forty Under 40 Class of 2019, has joined SponsorUnited as senior vice president, marketing and communications, a newly created position. Hudock is going to the Stamford, Conn.-based sports and entertainment sponsorship database and market intelligence provider after 13 years at sponsorship marketing agency Genesco Sports Enterprises, where he worked on brands including Anheuser-Busch InBev and Pepsi, as group vice president. Hudock has also held marketing and communications titles with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles. “Post-pandemic, there’s just this unprecedented thirst for industry intelligence, so we’re in a great position as the industry comes back to life and games on the field,” he said.
Former Madison Square Garden senior exec Joe Cohen is returning to his roots, having been named to to the board of directors of Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden Network. Cohen, a member of Sports Business Journal’s Champions Class of 2016, began his career in sports and broadcasting at MSG 50 years ago. … Michelle Berg has left MKTG after 19 years at the Conn.-based marketing agency, most recently as executive vice president. … Stephen Chriss, vice president, global head of partnerships and integrated marketing, has been COVID furloughed out of Topps after less than a year. Before that, the veteran marketer was vice president of marketing activation at Conagra brands, and he spent more than 18 years
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.