By Barry Janoff
May 30, 2013: Pepsi and the NFL have been partners since the beverage giant took over the cola category from rival Coca-Cola in 2002. In 2012, PepsiCo and the NFL extended their alliance with a ten-year deal that analysts put in the multibillion-dollar range. Pepsi siblings including Gatorade, Tropicana and Frito-Lay also are league partners.
This season, Pepsi will be in the second year of it's second tenure as title sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show via a deal signed in 2012 that should carry through the historic Super Bowl L in 2016, to be played in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Beyoncé was the star in Super Bowl XLVII, Pepsi's first halftime sponsorship since Super Bowl XLI in 2007 (where Prince was the star performer). Super Bowl XLVIII this February will be played in MetLife Stadium.
Pepsi already has significant presence as a cornerstone partner, (along with Bud Light, Verizon and SAP) in the home venue of the NFL's New York Giants and Jets, which is located not far from parent company PepsiCo's corporate headquarters in Purchase, NY.
Pepsi in 2002 also launched what was then the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Week and Rookie of the Year awards, and under Pepsi Max the past two years, voted on by fans mainly via NFL.com. The voting now is under the Pepsi Next banner.
The yearly winners are a lofty group of players who have continued to make themselves felt beyond their rookie seasons. They include Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Adrian Peterson (2007), Joe Flacco (2008), Percy Harvin (2009), Ndamukong Suh (2010) and Cam Newton (2011). Last year saw what arguably was the most stellar rookie class in recent NFL history, which included the five Pepsi Rookie of the Year finalists: winner Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Alfred Morris (Redskins).
Wilson was given his honor during the NFL awards ceremony the Saturday night before Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Support continued via such activation as the Panini America "2012 Contenders Football" set that hit Target stores in February, which included an insert featuring each of the weekly winners; and "Prizm Football Red Prizm" die-cut versions of the five 2012 Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year finalists.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Zach Harris, marketing director, Pepsi Sports - NFL, about the brand's alliance with the league, the power (or lack thereof) of NFL rookies and marketing support for the 2013 Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week and Year voting and the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How would you describe Pepsi's ROI for its NFL alliance, inlcuding the Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week and Year awards and the Super Bowl halftime show?
Zach Harris: Pepsi has a long-standing relationship with the NFL and the NFL Players Assn., and both relationships have been great. The concept of rookies ties in especially well with Pepsi: a fresh outlook, a new class, the anticipation of great things to come, is everything that our brands — and this year we are talking about Pepsi Next — and our company values. We get excited this time of year, when a new class is coming in with a new outlook and new potential. We are anxious to get the Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week and Rookie of the Year voting started when the 2013 season begins. And if you add that to our other NFL-related activations, not the least of which is the Super Bowl halftime show, we believe that really translates well into fan and consumer loyalty.
NYSJ: It might be hard to ever top the rookie Class of 2012 with Luck, RG3, Wilson, Morris and others, but what do you see for the rookie Class of 2013?
ZH: Every year is different. So I appreciate and look forward to meeting them and speaking with them at such events as the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, to get to know them off the field and to get to understand who they are and what they are like. To get to understand their personality and marketability, if you will. And at the same time to talk to them about Pepsi and our alliance with the NFL and the rookie platform, especially through the Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week and Rookie of the Year voting. There may not be the same type of buzz this year as last year, or the year before with Cam Newton, Julio Jones, J.J. Watt and some of the others. But don't let that fool you. There will be rookie standouts. There will be leaders who will rise to the top.
NYSJ: What type of response have you received from consumers and fans regarding Pepsi's activation behind and support of the Rookie of the Week and Rookie of the Year programs?
ZH: We have a lot of equity in the rookie programs, which we continue to build every year. It has been more then ten years now since we began working with the NFL rookie platforms. And the best news is that those platforms and the support behind them are still growing. The fact that this is determined by the fans is very important, and we have seen the number of fan votes continue to grow. We hit an all-time high last season for the Pepsi voting when Russell Wilson won. We unveiled the winner during Super Bowl week in New Orleans, which received tremendous press. So fans know to go back every week to vote and every year to vote. The fan base knows that Pepsi supports rookies and that we are here for them.
NYSJ: It's never too early to talk about the Super Bowl, what can you reveal about Pepsi's plans for Super Bowl XLVIII this February in MetLife Stadium?
ZH: [Laughs.] I love that the buzz for this Super Bowl has already started. I am based in New York. PepsiCo is based in New York. We are a global organization with roots in New York. I love the fact that MetLife Stadium is one of our premiere partnerships. There is a lot of anticipation for this Super Bowl and so many opportunities for us to shine.
"There certainly is a unique twist to Super Bowl XLVIII to embrace the elements and the location and to work with our partners."
NYSJ: Pepsi is a cornerstone partner at MetLife and PepsiCo is located not far north of New York City, so how much added incentive is there for Pepsi?
ZH: We look forward to welcoming everyone to our back yard, but we want to make sure that we do it right. We will have a significant presence throughout New York and New Jersey. We do that every year [in the respecitve citiies] leading up to the Super Bowl, but there certainly is a unique twist here to embrace the elements and the location and to work with our partners. And when you add all of that to Pepsi's [title sponsorship of the Super Bowl] halftime show, it is something that Pepsi is very much excited about. It is new and fresh to fans and consumers, and the opportunities that Pepsi sees will be new and fresh. We currently are working through ideas and plans. But if I reveal too much [the Pepsi executives] would come in cut off the conversation. [Laughs.]
NYSJ: How would you describe Pepsi's alliance with MLB, the naming rights deal for Pepsi Center in Denver (home to the NBA's Nuggets and NHL's Avalanche) and other sports domestically and worldwide?
ZH: I would say the results have been strong across our sports portfolio. My focus is the NFL so I can address that directly. From a portfolio standpoint, we always look for ways to engage our consumers, work with our fans and tap into our fan behavior in a way that gets people excited. And there is nothing like capturing the excitement of 'Next' and everything that Pepsi stands for. Here, we are doing that with sports and with the NFL. The best way to put it is to say that our relationship with the NFL has grown every year and will continue to grown.
NYSJ: Not too long ago, the NFL had what would be considered an off-season, but that has changed with the expansion of NFL and marketing activation around the NFL Draft, the Scouting Combine, rookie mini-camps, OTAs and other events leading to the pre-season. How is Pepsi ramping up along with that?
ZH: We want to activate fully, year-round, behind our partnership with the NFL, so we welcome the opportunity to work with the league in their year-round efforts. The NFL is no longer about starting in September and ending in February. We continually look for ways to enhance our presence in certain areas and to build up our presence in all our NFL activations. We are involved with the NFL year-round. In the case of rookies, we are there to support the NFLPA and the rookie class. We support our rookies throughout the entire year.
NYSJ: What is the feeling at Pepsi about the number of the rookies with whom you have worked who have continued to establish themselves on the field?
ZH: It is a great feeling to be part of an athlete's professional career from the beginning. It is a great feeling that Pepsi and Pepsi Next are in on the ground floor and involved with the rookies from the start at events such as the NFLPA Rookie Premiere orientation. The fact that some of our rookies of the year have become big names, household names, and that they came from the Pepsi program, is something that we as a brand and PepsicCo as a company are definitely proud of.
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