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HomeMarketingPromotionCoca-Cola and sports partnership through competition

Coca-Cola and sports partnership through competition

The importance of image

Our image is the way in which others see us. People quickly form opinions about us from the way we dress, walk and talk, from where we live and from our interests. Image in the business sense is what people think and feel consciously and subconsciously about a company or product. The creation of this image is crucial to the success of a business. It is necessary to create ‘the right image’ of a product, i.e. one that closely matches consumers’ feelings of what the product should be like. It is therefore an important part of marketing to build on ‘associations’ between products and other aspects of life.

This case study shows how Coca-Cola and sports share a tradition of close association which dates back nearly a century. Coca-Cola and sports are a natural fit. Coca-Cola strives to be everywhere people gather for fun, recreation and enjoyment – everything which makes sport a popular pastime for so many people around the world. Visit any major sporting event or arena in your neighbourhood and you will see people drinking Coca-Cola before, during and after participating in sports, or when they are spectators because sport is as much for the fans.

A natural fit

When consumers make a purchasing decision, they consider a range of aspects of the product which make up what is often referred to as ‘The product concept.’ Products are not just purchased to meet a single need; the ownership and use of a product involve a whole range of factors that make up the product concept. For example, it may appear that a couple chooses to holiday in the West Indies because they are attracted by the sand, sun and surf.

However, when questioned further, it may come to light that they are more concerned with the ‘image’ that they present – friends, associates and ‘significant others’ will become aware that they are able to afford to holiday in the West Indies. Holidaying in the West Indies is associated with a particular lifestyle. In the public’s imagination, it may represent being rich and able to afford exotic things.

When we examine the ‘product concept’ of a soft drink, then we need to consider the wider elements which attract consumers. Clearly, the key benefits of a soft drink are that it quenches thirst and that it is refreshing. However, there are other ‘sensual dimensions’ which are equally important and lead us to choose one drink rather than another. These sensual dimensions include its colour, taste, smell, texture, appearance and the design of the packaging in which it is presented.

In addition, there are other dimensions which are equally important such as the ‘image’ associated with the product and the ‘image’ of the company which produces the product. Consumers will prefer those products which have a strong positive image. An important ingredient of this image will be the association that the product evokes.

There are a number of products which are closely associated with particular events or occasions. Obvious examples are:

  • Strawberries and cream at Wimbledon
  • Popcorn and ice cream at the theatre or cinema
  • Beer and skittles evenings at the local pub, etc.

It makes sound marketing sense to build on these associations and this is exactly what Coca-Cola has done in the sports arena. In this case study therefore we have set out to highlight Coca-Cola’s association with sports by focusing on:

  • The Olympic Games
  • Football
  • Tennis
  • Special Olympics

The relationship Coca-Cola has with sport seeks to advance the development of sport overall and to help make sporting competitions possible by supporting events for the participation and pleasure of athletes and spectators. At the same time, the Company benefits from its association with sports in several key ways:

  • Its image is enhanced through association with prestigious sporting events.
  • Promotions and other marketing tie-ins with sports and sporting events have a widespread consumer appeal.
  • The Coca-Cola trademark is highly visible at appropriate venue sites and through promotional activity.
  • Products are sold at major sporting occasions to millions of consumers.

The Olympic Games


Since 1928, The Coca-Cola Company’s active support of the Olympic ideal has continually grown in scope and depth. Today, Coca-Cola is the longest continuous Olympic sponsor. The 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam marked the beginning of The Coca-Cola Company’s involvement when a freighter arrived with the U.S. Olympic Team and 1,000 cases of Coca-Cola. As Coca-Cola made its Olympic debut, so did several other traditions that would become familiar sights at later Olympic Games. The Olympic Flame was lit for the first time in modern Olympic history and women competed for the first time, taking part in track and field events.

When the Olympic Games came to Los Angeles in 1932, Coca-Cola rolled out the red carpet. The Company distributed 3 million miniature cut-outs listing Olympic records to young people across the country. During the Games, more than 200 teenagers dressed in white jackets and gloves served Coca-Cola to many of the spectators in the Los Angeles Coliseum.


After a 12-year gap due to World War II, the Olympic Games resumed in 1948 in London. Overcoming lingering effects of the war, Coca-Cola shipped equipment in from Glasgow and Belfast, to meet the thirsty demands of athletes and spectators in London. For the 1952 Summer Games, The Coca-Cola Company brought more than 300,000 cases of Coca-Cola to Helsinki from the Netherlands aboard the M.S. Marvic’, a rebuilt World War II landing craft, in what became known as ‘Operation Muscle.’ Much of the product was donated by the Company for sale by the Disabled Ex-Servicemen Association.

In 1960, Italian Bottlers of Coca-Cola showed their support for the Olympic Games in Rome when they presented athletes, officials and spectators with a 45rpm record of ‘Arrivederci Roma’ a favourite song of the day. The Company continued creating new ways to enhance the Olympic experience in 1964 by aiding athletes, spectators and the media covering the Tokyo Games with guide maps, sight-seeing information and a Japanese-English phrase book.

70’s and 80’s

During the 1970s and 80s, The Coca-Cola Company increased further its involvement with the Olympic movement. For example, in 1979 the Company helped the U.S. Olympic Committee create the ‘U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame’ to honour America’s greatest Olympic athletes.

In 1987, Coca-Cola became the first sponsor of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a pledge of $1 million (U.S.) to the International Olympic Committee. The Coca-Cola Company broke new ground in 1988 when it orchestrated the creation of ‘The Coca-Cola World Chorus’ for the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. Comprised of 43 young people from 23 countries selected through competitions sponsored by local Bottlers of Coca-Cola, including Great Britain, the chorus performed the signature song of the Games – ‘Can’t You Feel It?’ – before millions of television viewers during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.


In 1992 the International Olympic Torchbearers’ Program, presented by Coca-Cola, brought together 150 runners from 50 nations, again including Great Britain, to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay in Spain for the = XXVth Olympiad in Barcelona. This was the first time people from other countries participated in the host country’s torch relay. As the exclusive presenter of the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay, Coca-Cola provided 2,500 people with the chance to select someone special in their lives to be among the 10,000 torchbearers, through various consumer promotions and the International Olympic Torchbearers’ Program.

As the Official Soft Drink of the 1996 Olympic Games, Coca-Cola and other products of The Coca-Cola Company were provided to help quench the thirst of the athletes, officials, spectators and members of the media who attended the Games.

Coca-Cola estimated that 20 million servings of their products were consumed at the official venues in Atlanta, more than 830 times the number of servings consumed at the 1928 Summer Games in Amsterdam. The Company built Coca-Cola Olympic City for the Centennial Olympic Games. Olympic City brought the Olympic experience to nearly one million people. Visitors were able to compete against Olympic champions and judge athletes’ performances through interactive activities, enjoy an entertaining variety of live performances and meet Olympic athletes.


Coca-Cola supports football at all levels – from youngsters learning their first skills – to the world stage. As the owner of the world’s number one brand, The Coca-Cola Company feels a tremendous affinity with the world’s number one game. Football is about fun, excitement, passion, pride and shared enjoyment and so is Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola’s philosophy for supporting football is defined by the fans who are the consumers. This reflects the way that the Company operates and has helped Coca-Cola to become the world’s most popular soft drink. This market driven approach involves listening to what people say and giving them what they want. The thing that millions of fans want passionately…. is football! Coca-Cola sets out to support football at every level of the game. On a global basis, Coca-Cola has been a World Cup supporter since the 1978 tournament in Argentina and will be there in France in 1998 and into the next millennium.

In Europe, Coca-Cola is involved with the European Championship and played a prominent part in making the 1996 event in England such a success. In Great Britain, Coca-Cola has earned its place in the fabric of football, through its support of the England national team, the Coca-Cola Cups in England and Scotland and through grassroots development programmes. Since 1978, hundreds of thousands of young hopefuls have learned their first skills through the Football Association Coca-Cola Football Development Programme. For example, in 1996 over 180,000 youngsters joined FA soccer centres around the country, for fun, memorable events and for professional coaching and training.

Coca-Cola Fun Weeks, run in conjunction with FA coaches during school holidays, are now recognised as the number one organised summer activity in England for young people. Through these and other programmes, youngsters can improve their skills and techniques and learn the essential values of good behaviour and fair play on the pitch in a fun, relevant and challenging way. These activities are backed by Coca-Cola’s Football in the Curriculum campaign, bringing football to life in the classroom.

Whilst every one of these youngsters enjoys being part of the game, just a handful will fulfil their ambitions to become professional players. All of them, however, will go on to support the game at varying levels and some of them might even make it to the very top. Coca-Cola’s support of young footballers was demonstrated by its creation of a ‘Soccer Sixes’ tournament to mirror Euro 96. Girls and boys six-a-side teams, aged 15 and under, from the 16 participating Euro 96 countries took part.

The initial groups were the same as the main competition and a mini Wembley Stadium was created on Clapham Common, with the final also on the 30th of June. In the mid-1990s the Coca-Cola Cups are an important part of the sporting calendar in England and Scotland. Coca-Cola’s aim was to enhance the game by enabling more fans to share in the excitement and passion that is Cup football.

During the period of Coca-Cola’s support, live attendance at matches has risen by 11and TV audiences have grown by 16 Coca-Cola helped to create family enclosures which have made the game accessible to a wider audience and helped create better, unique occasions and experiences for and with fans. A great example of this is the Coca-Cola Cup final at Wembley where supporters’ anthems are played, bringing fans together to express, as one, their pride and passion for their teams and their game. The result is a totally unique atmosphere.


Following on from the continuous support of Coca-Cola since 1974, in April 1996 diet Coke announced an exciting five-year partnership with one of Britain’s leading summer sporting events – The Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon. At the time, diet Coke had established itself as Britain’s No.1 diet soft drink (second only to Coca-Cola in overall soft drink consumption) and was enjoying dynamic growth. In order to consolidate this position, a major marketing push was planned for the summer of 1996, focusing on encouraging even more people around the country to share in the fun, thrill and experience of Wimbledon.

As the Official Carbonated Soft Drink to The Championships, diet Coke was there to refresh the players and the fans of the Wimbledon tournament. The campaign was supported by an instant-win scratch card promotion, offering consumers the chance to win free cans of Diet Coke and tennis rackets. The brand also served up an imaginative advertising campaign, major promotional and PR campaigns and themed events in shopping malls up and down the country.

Special Olympics

Sport should not be a discriminating activity to be enjoyed only by the young and fit. Both playing and appreciating sport is an activity which millions of people can enjoy throughout the world, no matter what their background and abilities. Remember the slogan ‘Sport for All’. Nothing should prevent anyone from practising competitive sports, as a sport is a key way of improving the quality of life.

Since 1985, Coca-Cola has sponsored the Special Olympics in Great Britain, which is a multi-sports competition programme for people with learning difficulties. This is a particularly important part of Coca-Cola’s long term approach to sponsorship, as it helps to make leisure and sporting activities so much more important for so many groups and enables Coca-Cola to give something back to the community, particularly where needs are greatest.


By focusing on The Olympic Games, Football, Tennis and Special Olympics, we have illustrated just some of the ways in which Coca-Cola has built on its association with the sport. This support of sport in Britain is a strategy which fits with the corporate worldwide policies of The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola has focused its activities on events, experiences and environments which offer relevant meaning and imagery to its target consumers.

It is at events such as The Olympic Games and The European Championships that it is particularly appropriate to develop the association between Coca-Cola and sport. Through focusing on leisure activities, Coca-Cola is able to combine the promise of complete refreshment with a sense of fun, enjoyment, celebration and passion that enhances the overall consumer experience for almost everyone within the community.