Looking to strengthen its presence in the Windy City, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. has inked a seven-year, estimated multi-million dollar partnership with the NFL Chicago Bears.

The non-alcoholic beverage company replaces The Coca-Cola Co., which has sponsored the team for decades.

The sponsorship includes three primary components: Exclusive pouring rights in Soldier Field, a fan engagement area outside the venue, and title of the team’s training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill.

IEG SR spoke with Andrew Barker, Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s director of sponsorships, about the Bears partnership, how the company plans to activate the tie, DPSG’s involvement in college sports and other topics. 

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: What was the driver behind the Bears’ sponsorship?  

Barker: Dr Pepper has a number of tremendous trademarks and brands, and the Chicago Bears are a great property with a tremendous amount of fan passion. The sponsorship provides an opportunity to marry our brands together and create something unique and different for our retail customers.

IEG SR: Is Chicago a priority market?

Barker: Chicago is a big and important market. Plus, we have a bottling facility in Northlake, Ill. that employs upwards of 700 people.

The Bears are a longstanding tradition in the market, and the partnership gives us an opportunity to take something special to our retail customers. You have to take advantage of those opportunities when they come to light.

IEG SR: Tell me about the pouring rights component.

Barker: The partnership affords pouring rights for eight brands. We also have the opportunity to bring in Snapple, Deja Blue water and Venom, our energy drink. We also may expand the partnership to include mixers.

IEG SR: How will you activate with retail partners?

Barker: We’re still developing our activation plans, but at the end of the day we’ll provide our large and small format channels something new and exciting.

For example, the Bears each year wrap up training season by having a couple of practices in Chicago. We’re exploring what we can do with that at retail. We want to share that experience with fans who may not typically have the opportunity to experience something like that. 

The Dr Pepper brand has a huge push behind tuition giveaways around its college athletics program. We want to work that into the mix as well.

IEG SR: Speaking of which, Dr Pepper has a large and long-standing presence in college sports. Tell me about that.

Barker: Dr Pepper does have a long involvement in the college space. The brand was one of the inaugural sponsors of the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, and we have maintained that relationship for decades.

Dr Pepper targets 18-to-24-year-olds. College sports resonate with that audience.

IEG SR: How has the program evolved over the years?

Barker: Our activation strategy has changed. The cost of attending college has skyrocketed, and we made a strategic shift several years ago to identify students who are going to make a difference with their education.

We leverage the platform by giving students the opportunity to upload videos explaining how they’re going to change the world and by hosting half-time events at college championship games where they can earn money for tuition.

The program creates a strong emotional connection between the Dr Pepper brand and consumers, and ultimately the whole distribution chain. Everyone gets engaged and excited about the program.

IEG SR: The Sunkist brand frequently sponsors college athletic conferences along with Dr Pepper. What is the thinking there?

Barker: We use Sunkist and basketball to provide a solution to bottlers and retailers in geographic areas like the Big Ten, Big East and SEC where college basketball becomes the heartbeat of the community once the football season is over.

We have a number of partners in our system, and not everyone can take advantage of every program. Sunkist and basketball provides an opportunity for everyone to get involved with our conference partners.