Pepsi signed a three-year, $6 million deal with Major League Soccer, the 10-team league that concluded its inaugural season with a championship game Oct. 20. Joining eight other primary sponsors, including American Honda Motor Co., Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser and AT&T Corp., Pepsi will receive advertising, promotion and signage rights.
Also, Pepsi signed a deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation that will give it sponsorship privileges for the national soccer team, including the 1998 World Cup team.
And trying to tap deep into the sport's growing popularity in the U.S., Pepsi struck deals with the nation's two big youth soccer organizations, the American Youth Soccer Organization and the U.S. Youth Soccer Association.
"This is a great grass-roots opportunity," said Jorge Consuegra, senior marketing manager-Pepsi. "Over 18 million people in the U.S. play soccer, and 13 million of those are kids. We are a youth-oriented brand, so this is perfect for us."
On the professional level, Hispanics "account for a significant portion of spectators" at games, said Doug Boyle, VP-cola marketing at Pepsi-Cola Co. "These loyal fans give us yet another stronghold with one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. population."
In the past two years, Pepsi has become more aggressive in sports sponsorships, an arena traditionally dominated by Coca-Cola Co.
Coca-Cola brands have deals with the National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League and with 24 of 28 Major League Baseball teams, as well as a 68-year-old relationship with the Olympics.
Trying to leverage the momentum generated when the U.S. hosted the '94 World Cup, soccer organizers have orchestrated a big push to make soccer an important sport in the U.S. They realize savvy marketers will play a crucial role in the success or failure of that effort.
"Pepsi's enthusiastic marketing programs will continue to move MLS into the mainstream of the American consciousness," said Randy Bernstein, exec VP of Major League Soccer.