As winter draws to a close, the battle between cold-drink rivals Coca-Cola and Pepsico is getting hotter. The arena this time is Indian Premier League cricket, where the two global giants are bidding against each other for sponsorship of both individual players and league teams.
The battle began a few days back, when Pepsi dropped Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood idol and co-owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), saying it wanted younger brand ambassadors. Even as Khan publicly complained about the manner of his 'sacking', Coke was quick to pick up sponsorship of his entire team.
Coca-Cola, which is planning to push its Sprite brand of clear-lemon drink through KKR, has signed a two-year deal with the team. This will ensure that iconic KKR players like Ishant Sharma (who currently endorses Pepsi) and former India captain Saurav Ganguly (who was dropped by PepsiCo last year) will endorse Coca-Cola's products in the coming season, which starts next month.
Coca-Cola's sponsorship deal includes merchandise branding rights - T-shirts, jerseys, helmets, caps - in-stadia branding rights on perimeters and dug-outs, aligning with the team as a beverage partner, serving Coca-Cola beverages in home stadiums (every team gets to play seven matches in its home stadium) and various promotions by KKR team players. The KKR team and Khan may also feature in Coca-Cola advertising specific to IPL.
At the same time, PepsiCo has closed a new deal with India Cements-owned Chennai Super Kings, which it already sponsors. The two companies are now in talks to produce co-branded cans of beverage. It is also reported to be in talks with Mukesh Ambani's Mumbai Indians.
Meanwhile Coke, which recently bagged the Delhi Daredevils, is also in talks with the Punjab Kings XI, owned by actress Preity Zinta and industrialist Ness Wadia.
Interestingly, Delhi Daredevils captain Virender Sehwag as well as Ishant Sharma feature in Pepsi's new cola commercial.
The IPL sponsorship tussle between Coca-Cola and Pepsi goes back to three months ago, when PepsiCo cancelled its five-year in stadia sponsorship contract signed with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), perhaps because Coca-Cola had signed a 'category exclusive' on-air sponsorship deal with IPL's broadcast partner Sony Entertainment Television, MAX.
That deal gave Coke the right to air its advertisements in commercial breaks, and category exclusivity meant that rivals like Pepsi were not allowed to advertise on television during the matches.
"We had committed Rs 10 crore a year till 2013 to be IPL's beverage partner. Yet we could not get a single spot aired on Sony Max, as Coca-Cola picked up the sponsor slot for about Rs 16-18 crore, blocking the entire category," said a Pepsi official.
Coca-Cola is expected to pay around Rs6 crore to as sponsorship to KKR, the team jointly owned by Shah Rukh, actress Juhi Chawla and her husband Jai Mehta. KKR has been scouting for a title sponsor ever since real estate major Housing Development and Infrastructure Limited (HDIL), which picked up the deal last season, pulled out this year because of the economic slowdown.
Coca-Cola sources said the decision to leverage its Sprite brand through the KKR team came after it displaced Pepsi as the second highest selling soft drink in India, according to a December 2008 study by market research major AC Nielsen. Thums Up, also from the Coca-Cola stable, retains the top slot.
However, indications are that Coke's the decision to back KKR does not indicate any association with Brand SRK. Rather, they want to leverage Bengal cricket icon Sourav Ganguly's association with the Knight Riders to promote Sprite in the state.