PNC Park, Pirates switching to Coca-Cola sponsorship

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Before the Pirates bring any pop to the plate this season, they will bring a new pop to PNC Park's concession stands.

The ballpark will switch from Pepsi products to Coca-Cola products, since the Pirates and the Atlanta-based soft drink giant reached a sponsorship, marketing and so-called pour-rights agreement during the offseason.

The contract for the multi-year deal is still being finalized. Financial terms were not available.

Stadium sponsorship deals are important for soft drink companies, which hope for positive reinforcement by tying their brands to popular events.

"Beyond just the sheer volume that a baseball stadium and its 81 dates a year will sell, it's a bigger branding issue," said Tim Halloran, author of "Romancing the Brand" and founder of Atlanta consulting firm Brand Illumination. "It's experiencing the brand in what is hopefully an enjoyable environment -- a day out at the ballpark -- and that helps to reinforce some of the experience of the brand."

Coke has been off the sidelines in Pittsburgh for a couple of years.

After Heinz Field switched to Pepsi in 2012, Coca-Cola was not served in any of Pittsburgh's major professional sports venues. Consol Energy Center has served RC Cola products since it opened in 2010.

The new deal means PNC Park will serve Coke's soft drinks, Dasani bottled water and Fuze Iced Tea.

Pepsi products have been served in PNC Park since it opened in 2001, and the soft drink's presence was not limited to the soda fountain.

The company had a large electronic bottle above the right-field wall that lit up after a Pirates home run, and was surrounded by four circular Pepsi logos on support beams above the bleachers.

That signage will be removed completely and will not be replaced by similar Coke bottles or logos, according to a club source.

But Coke's logo likely will have some presence in the ballpark, something that is even more valuable to the brand than the sales generated from its products, said Mr. Halloran, who spent 10 years working for Coke's brand management organization.

Though fans will be able to purchase only Coke products, Pirates players will still drink Gatorade, a sports drink owned by PepsiCo, in the dugout, the clubhouse and the bullpen. Coke produces its own sports drink -- Powerade -- but it will be available only in the stands, per terms of the agreement.

The Pirates have a history with Coca-Cola. It had been served at Three Rivers Stadium for years before the Pirates moved up the Allegheny River to their new home.

As with other moves the Pirates made in the offseason season, this switch will likely draw its fair share of fan reaction, something that other teams have learned over the years.

"We engage with brands in relationships, and some of those relationships can be very powerful, much like a romance," Mr. Halloran said.

"Some people don't want to cheat on the brand. There's really a lot of passion there."


Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1969 or on Twitter @msanserino. Teresa Lindeman contributed.

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