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White Sox Sign with Coke after 15-year Run with Pepsi

Crain’s Chicago Business, April 04, 2016

By Danny Ecker

Chicago White Sox fans will be sipping Coca-Cola products at games beginning this season after 15 years of drinking Pepsi on the South Side.

The team and its official soft drink partner cut ties this offseason, paving the way for the Sox to sign a new multiyear deal with Coke as the beverage brand served at U.S. Cellular Field.

The new deal marks the return of Coca-Cola to the South Side, where it had pouring rights for Sox games from the opening of new Comiskey Park in 1991 until 2000, when the Sox switched to Pepsi.

As a result, brands like Pepsi, Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew and Aquafina water will be replaced by Coke, Sprite and Dasani water at Sox games.

Coca-Cola will also have a mix of signage at U.S. Cellular Field under the deal. Pepsi had the rights to one of the largest ads on the center-field scoreboard, though that scoreboard was replaced by a video board that will make its debut this season.

In that vein, Coke will become the first brand to have “takeover” advertising across all three of the Sox's new outfield video boards at once. It will also sponsor “Snap a Coke,” in which fans can post photos that will be shown on the new video boards.

Another piece of the deal is the White Sox's Family Sundays promotion the team launched in 2013 with cheaper tickets and parking for their home Sunday games. Those will become Coca-Cola Family Sundays under the new partnership.

Financial terms of the Coca-Cola deal were not disclosed, but the term is longer than five years, according to a source familiar with the agreement.

“We definitely feel like the Sox line up well with our consumer base (in Chicago),” said Jeff Laschen, CEO of Great Lakes Coca-Cola, a Rosemont company formed 10 months ago that handles distribution and marketing of Coca-Cola in the region. “You take two great brands like the Sox and an iconic brand like Coca-Cola—we're very excited about the partnership.”

A new Coca-Cola sign is installed at U.S. Cellular Field. - Media
Photo by Media A new Coca-Cola sign is installed at U.S. Cellular Field.
That Coke's marketing braintrust was locally-based was a key factor for the Sox in making the jump to Coke, said team Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brooks Boyer. The opposite, he noted, has happened at Pepsi, “whose marketing decisions are being made nationally.”

“We had a terrific run with Pepsi, they're really good people. But (their) goals and objectives were going to be different than what they had in the past,” said Boyer. “Over time, (Coke) will be more aggressive locally in their sports partnerships, which is what we need—pushing our brand and ballpark experience.”

A spokeswoman for Pepsi confirmed the end of the brand's partnership with the White Sox, but did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Pepsi's departure from the Cell also comes in the wake of its renewed partnership with the Chicago Cubs, a deal that included naming rights to the Wrigley Field batter's eye section in center field.

For Coke, adding the Sox to its local marketing mix also gives the brand a chance to play the Chicago sports marketing game year-round.

“Coke gets the opportunity to have basically a summer venue in Chicago once things are done at the United Center." said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of Chicago-based sponsorship consulting firm IEG.

Coca-Cola has a joint beverage deal with the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks and the United Center, while the Chicago Bears ended their long-standing Coke partnership in 2012 in favor of Dr Pepper Snapple Group.