Steelers switch soft drink teams from Coke to Pepsi
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No matter how well Pittsburgh's professional sports teams play, Pepsi now dominates the North Shore.
The Pittsburgh Steelers this morning announced a new multi-year partnership with PepsiCo Inc., effectively shutting off the tap on the Coca-Cola products that have been associated with the football team for more than four decades.
Meanwhile, the city's growing collection of Pirates fans were already drinking Pepsi products at the ballpark.
"It was a tough decision," said Tony Quatrini, director of marketing for the Steelers, who remembers the iconic Mean Joe Greene commercial for Coke in the late 1970s and had only good things to say about the team's relationship with the soft drink giant.
But as the most recent contract expired, the Steelers opened up talks to both soft drink companies earlier this year.
Pepsi put together a game plan that appealed to team management, including bringing in the company's other brands such as Frito-Lay, Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana.
Financial details of the agreement weren't released.
The company won't be selling cereal or orange juice at Heinz Field but the marketing team could put the Steelers logo on a box of Cap'n Crunch or do some creative promotions with Naked Juice.
The next time the Steelers win the Super Bowl -- might as well plan for the big opportunities -- any PepsiCo products would have full rights to celebrate the "Super Bowl Champions" because the company also has a partnership with the National Football League.
After the last Steelers win in 2009, commemorative Coke cans couldn't use restricted terms like "Super Bowl."
"The NFL is a key strategic partner of ours," said Pepsi's director of sports marketing, Todd Kaplan, said.
He declined to reveal much detail on what sort of creative promotions the company plans to cook up with the Steelers -- that's all still being worked out -- but PepsiCo's 2011 deal with the NFL called for creating digital fan engagement concepts for younger fans and establishing a joint innovation task force charged with "developing new food and beverage concepts for fans as well as sideline innovations and enhancements to health and safety for athletes."
The Great Hall area inside Heinz Field no longer carries the Coca-Cola name, but it could pick up a new sponsor.
"We're in the course of having conversations with other companies," Mr. Quatrini said.
The switch to Pepsi products has already been made. People who attended the Kenny Chesney concert at Heinz Field a few weeks ago got Sierra Mist and not Sprite.
Mr. Quatrini said there were no complaints, although "there were some eyebrows raised" because of the team's long-term relationship with Coke.
This fall, plans call for a rollout of special Pepsi Max can commemorating the team's 80th season.
Coca-Cola still dominates the U.S. market for carbonated soft drinks with a 41.9 share in 2011, according to industry publication Beverage Digest, compared to PepsiCo's 28.5 share.
But Pittsburgh could be a sweet spot for Pepsi.
In 2009, a company marketing official indicated that southwestern Pennsylvania was among its top 20 markets.
Mr. Kaplan couldn't offer more recent data, but he also described the region as a strong market for Pepsi.
Even as he celebrated his company's new deal with a team that he described as iconic, Mr. Kaplan began wooing the Pittsburgh fans, promising, "We're excited to really go deep with the Steelers."
First Published July 23, 2012 9:00 am