EVENTS & PROMOTIONS: PEPSI'S BALL GAME: SOFT-DRINK GIANT ATTRACTS COLLEGE SET WITH ITS OWN BRANDED SPORT

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Pepsi-cola co. is unleashing its very own branded sport as part of soft-drink marketers' escalating battle to win college students' loyalty.

Pepsi Ball -- created specifically for the cola giant -- is drawing thousands of college-age participants as a tournament program rolls across the U.S.

Pepsi Ball combines basketball, Frisbee, hockey and team handball on a triangular field with three goals. In tournament-style play, teams compete against one another until, in the final contest, one emerges the victor, winning Pepsi prizes.

At 30 colleges and universities and at spring break sites and beaches this year, students are being given Pepsi jerseys to wear during game play and plied with free Pepsi beverages.

Participation is free and thousands are lining up for tournaments at schools including Arizona State University and Tulane University; at Tulane, more than 3,000 students appeared for the one-day tournament. The tour ends May 29.

`BEYOND SPONSORSHIP'

"It goes beyond sponsorship," said Mike McCann, Pepsi's senior marketing manager-sports. Pepsi Ball allows the company to "take campus marketing deeper, beyond sampling and signage, and go right into students' lifestyles."

Pepsi is concentrating its Pepsi Ball efforts at campuses already claiming a sponsorship connection to the brand; it's steering clear of many schools in the Southeast that are loyal to Coca-Cola Co., said Jeremy Friedman, Pepsi Ball's director of publicity and event marketing.

On many campuses, there's talk of expanding Pepsi Ball to year-round intramural play and possibly including high schools, but Pepsi would not confirm such plans.

Pepsi Ball was created by sports marketing agency Hope-Beckham, Atlanta, fulfilling an assignment to find a unique promotional platform.

It's not the first time Hope-Beckham has handled such a project: In the early 1990s, it created the Silver Bullets women's baseball team for Adolph Coors Co. Pepsi was a co-sponsor of that effort.

"When you create the sport, you have a lot more control," said Bob Hope, president of Hope-Beckham. "It's the difference between owning something and renting something."

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