The Gatorade NBA D-League sponsorship has made the Pepsico holding the first entitlement sponsor for an entire United States-based professional sports league, but that’s not the only remarkable thing about the partnership between Gatorade and the NBA’s “minor league.” It represents an escalation of the “Cola Wars” which have raged in American society for decades.
The deal makes Gatorade the official sports drink of the new “G-League,” along with giving the league’s players and teams access to the Gatorade Sport Science Institute to improve the on-court product. It comes just two years after Pepsi officially replaced Coca-Cola as the official soft drink of the NBA.
It also gives Pepsi a firm advantage in brand influence as far as the NBA is concerned. Now, not only will Pepsi be offered in all of the NBA’s venues, but Gatorade’s branding will be emblazoned in several ways regarding all soon-to-be 25 G-League franchises as well. Pair that with the fact that Gatorade has been the official sports drink of the NBA since 1984, and it effectively leaves Coca-Cola, along with its Powerade product, confined to negotiating endorsement deals with individual NBA players.
Powerade and Coca-Cola have had some success in that endeavor, however. Its most recent inception was a play off of its sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Powerade used Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut as the face of its Olympic advertising for the 2016 games. Just a few months prior, Powerade capitalized on a deal with New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose to make an effective commercial.
Powerade’s most famous endorsement deal, however, is with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Over the years, it has included a workout video, a custom flavor, and multiple commercials.
Prior to James and Powerade, however, was Gatorade’s rise to prominence in the NBA with its endorsement deal with Michael Jordan. Gatorade and Pepsi already enjoyed a position of power in the NBA, and this new sponsorship of the G-League has further strengthened it.
It’s not all gloom and doom for Powerade and Coca-Cola. There will always be room for Coca-Cola to pilfer the league’s most visible athletes and milk those cows dry, then move on to the next big name. The competition for time in front of the faces of NBA fans is still ongoing between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and as long as it lasts, the real winner will be the NBA.