Making a splash: Inside the Premier League’s Coca-Cola deal

SportsPro caught up with Premier League managing director Richard Masters and Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain, to discuss what represents a landmark deal for both English soccer’s top flight and the soft drink giant.

Making a splash: Inside the Premier League’s Coca-Cola deal

Three years after ending its 15-year title sponsorship deal with Barclays in favour of a multi-partner model, the Premier League’s commercial portfolio is now complete.

The identity of that seventh and final partner was revealed last week, as soft drink giant Coca-Cola Great Britain joined the likes of Nike, Tag Heuer, EA Sports, Carling, Cadbury and the aforementioned Barclays as a sponsor of English soccer’s top flight.

This is hardly Coca-Cola’s first foray into sports or even soccer, and the company’s experience with major events such as the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games – as well as a stint working alongside the English Football League (EFL) – is likely to have given Premier League officials confidence that they were aligning with a brand of similar ambitions.

For Coca-Cola, teaming up with one of the world’s most popular soccer leagues has given it confidence to make this the first sports sponsorship deal that it activates across multiple brands within its portfolio, with a major focus being on promoting its low and no-sugar options. As well as trying to help promote a healthy lifestyle, the company is also taking the stage the tie-up will provide to place a significant emphasis on its recycling schemes.   

Few names within their respective fields are more recognisable than the Premier League and Coca-Cola, and while the focus of the three-and-a-half-year partnership will initially be a domestic one, it’s only natural that the influence of two genuinely global brands will eventually be felt even further afield.

On the back of the announcement, SportsPro caught up with Premier League managing director Richard Masters and Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to discuss how the deal came about, and what they have planned for the partnership. 

SportsPro: What do you see as the benefits of this partnership?

Richard Masters: Coca-Cola are a global company; they have some universal brands. We have global aspirations; we’re in one billion homes in 189 countries. The opportunities I think are huge for us both. The partnership will start in the UK, and hopefully there’s some good business for Coca-Cola in that area. If you look at the two businesses and our aspirations, they’re both very well met.

Jon Woods: Football is the number one passion point for people who drink our brands, so it’s the single thing that gets them most excited. The partnership with the Premier League allows us to always be talking about football, activating around football and being part of our drinkers’ lives through football, so that’s the number one thing.

The second thing is the partnership allows us to bring our portfolio of brands to life in a way that we’ve never done before. So it allows us to obviously activate Coca-Cola which is the heart of the business, but the company is much bigger than a brand these days, so it allows us to bring a lot of our other brands to life, particularly some of the new ones that people may not be so aware of, and also the lighter variants, the lower sugar variants, which now represent about 70 per cent of everything we sell.

How important was it that both brands are globally recognised?

JW: I think it was very important from our side. The centre of the partnership is the UK, but Coca-Cola operates in 206 countries around the world – basically everywhere except Cuba and North Korea. A lot of those places are already expressing interest in how they can be a part of the partnership, because I think football in general and the league resonates globally, and I think Richard and the team have done a great job of building a global brand.

Football is the number one passion point for people who drink our brands. The partnership with the Premier League allows us to always be talking about football, activating around football and being part of our drinkers’ lives through football.

What have been some of the advantages for the Premier League of switching from a title sponsorship to a multi-partner model?

RM: The strategy was to move away from title sponsorship and some of the issues that brought. It gave us a cleaner voice to speak with, so the competition and the brand were able to completely upgrade and rebrand our visual identity and what we stood for.

So we’re able to market in a much cleaner way, but we’ve also been able to attract some different brands because of that difference in naming convention. It’s been a different offering, so all of the media-facing assets went back to the clubs. We now do these non-exclusive deals in relation to clubs, it’s a freer easier model, but it also offers greater opportunity to brands. We’ve seen a change in our portfolio and we’ve seen new companies come in. So I think it’s worked for us on a number of levels: on a branding level, on a marketing level, but also on a commercial level from a revenue perspective.

Coca-Cola has a long-running history of sports partnerships, including a stint as the sponsor of the EFL Cup between 1992 and 1998

Was Coca-Cola’s previous experience in sports sponsorship a key factor for the Premier League?

RM: Of course, Coke’s credentials in sports sponsorship are amazing; in football they’re historic both globally and in the UK, so that gives you comfort, and our two respective teams have been having some activation chats already about how to bring the partnership to life from January, and I’m pleased to say there are already some great ideas coming out of that process, as you would hope and expect.

How does Coca-Cola plan on applying its previous experience in sport to this partnership?

JW: We’ve done a lot of sports partnerships over the years, so we have a team in Atlanta where we’re based who are our experts in sports sponsorships and partners; they really help guide us through the process of working with Richard and the team here. They also clearly have a view about what you can activate within these partnerships and what’s more difficult to activate or how much the partnerships are worth, and so we’ve taken a lot of advice from them.

Coke’s credentials in sports sponsorship are amazing; in football they’re historic both globally and in the UK, so that gives you comfort.

We’ve done so many sports partnerships even in the years I’ve been at Coca-Cola, so I think we’re pretty well experienced now in how to bring them to life not only in a way that actually engages the people who consume our drinks, but also engage our customers in helping us build displays and bring products to life in stores.

We’ve seen more and more Premier League clubs striking regional deals to dip their toes into other markets, but would it be fair to say that the league’s focus remains primarily on global deals with big companies?

RM: The way that we do deals in agreement with the clubs lends itself to global deals rather than the slicing and dicing and looking at a regional model – that’s kind of not the direction we went in when we moved away from title sponsorship. We wanted to do global deals with big companies that could help us amplify and grow, and thankfully so far we’ve been able to do that for the most part.

Both Masters and Woods say that shared global aspirations made the Premier League and Coca-Cola a good fit

How important will it be to try and be innovative with this partnership?

JW: I think marketing comes to life when it’s experiential and people can touch it and feel it and be part of it. It’s less and less about static imagery, but much more about touching things and engaging, and that’s why I think the trophy tour is particularly interesting, because bringing the trophy to communities, taking it out and taking it to stores for our customers or community projects, I think that’s what draws people into the Premier League. And the Coca-Cola company bringing that I think is a great way for people to experience our brands, so I think marketing is becoming more and more experiential in nature and less and less static, and I think we’ve got great opportunity to do that with the Premier League.