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PepsiCo ‘evolve’ Champions League partnership to focus on sustainability

Drinks giant’s CMO says green activations are “natural fit” for Uefa sponsorship.

22 May 2023 Josh Sim

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  • PepsiCo to help Uefa achieve zero waste to landfill final in 2024
  • Kirkham says adoption of sustainable practices will be the biggest metric for success

Mark Kirkham, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of PepsiCo global beverages, says the drinks giant’s decision to team up with Uefa to implement different sustainability initiatives at the 2023 Champions League finals represents a “natural evolution” for the partnership.

At both the men’s and women’s Champions League finals next month, a series of practices endorsed by PepsiCo’s brands are to be rolled out. All food and beverage packaging supplied at events will be completely recyclable, with the men’s final to include 220 recycling bins for diligent waste sorting post-event. PepsiCo will also work with Turn, a scalable reuse system that uses smart technology for eliminating single-use plastic, to use 48,000 reusable cups and recycling bin operations at sampling stands.

Meanwhile, at the women’s event, returnable packaging and trays will be used for food and drinks. Fans will be able to buy drinks from transparent cups that can be returned for a deposit of €2 (US$2.16). PepsiCo drinks brand Gatorade will also stage its annual five-a-side youth soccer tournament, with the final to be held in Istanbul before the men’s showpiece event. Lay’s Replay initiative, which is created in partnership with the Uefa Foundation for Children will additionally be active in Turkey, with a new pitch made of recycled crisp packets to be opened in the country.

Given both partners have adopted more sustainable measures in their respective brand and corporate strategies, Kirkham believes the activations for both finals was “a natural fit”.

“We’ve got what we’re trying to do as a corporation to bring to life our own brand strategies and corporate strategies,” Kirkham tells SportsPro. “At the same time, Uefa is trying to do the same thing, they’ll reduce the footprint of their events, and really elevate the role that they can play through reducing plastics or actually driving recycling at their events.

“That led to essentially their strategy, which is a zero waste to landfill strategy, which we work with them on. As we and they have communicated, the goal is to have a zero waste to landfill final in London in 2024. But if you do that once, you have to build up to that, so what we’re doing in Eindhoven and Istanbul is bringing that to life through these initiatives to work towards that goal.”

With the goal of the initiatives being to impact fan behaviour towards more sustainable practices, it will be difficult to determine how much impact the activations will have. According to Kirkham, promoting sustainability by nudging fans gently, to guide people into implementing such actions going forward, will be key for a successful rollout of the activations.

“Adoption will ultimately be the biggest metric,” he says. “If you can go from Eindhoven and Istanbul to all of the last 16 matches, to the finals, I think that will be the final measure of success.

“Then the bigger metric that’s out there is the behaviour change. How can we get it to a point where it’s not even thought of being different when you have returnable cups, and when everyone’s expecting to return or pay a deposit to get something back. That is the kind of thing where when that happens, then I think we’ve all kind of made the impact that we want to have.”

PepsiCo first partnered with Uefa back in 2015, and in 2020 it became a main partner of the Women’s Champions League, as well as the Women’s Euros and other women’s soccer tournaments run by the European governing body. Since then, the sport has seen a commercial boom, with the success of the Women’s Euro 2022 inspiring more commercial opportunities for all stakeholders.

Kirkham points out the importance of brands in helping to elevate the status of women’s soccer through authentic storytelling. As well as its Uefa partnership, Gatorade has been a partner of Manchester City’s women’s team since 2019, while also having featured US icon Mia Hamm in an infamous ad back in 1997.

“It takes people who really care, and brands who are willing to invest,” Kirkham states. “If you do that, then all of a sudden you’re selling out stadiums for finals. And then you’ve got broadcasters wanting to put games on primetime. It’s that combination of things.

“I think it just takes some brands who are willing to get in early. We got in really early in the US, and I think we’ve continued to show that we believe in the sport. We believe in youth participation, and in an equal game. Those are things that matter. If you can put your money behind that, you can help elevate the sport.”

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