Coke boosts NCAA digital, social media efforts


By Michael Smith, Staff Writer (reposted from

Coca-Cola is in the final year of its groundbreaking 13-year contract as an NCAA partner, but it’s not acting like a brand that’s pulling back.

If anything, Coca-Cola is going deeper into the digital and social media space with its Coke Zero brand during March Madness. New initiatives like “Watch and Score,” a text-to-win contest that will provide incentives and prizes for viewers of the digital broadcast, will be introduced on newly rebranded March Madness Live.

A Coke Zero-branded text-to-win contest is among its NCAA tournament activations.
Coke also has hired some of the top analysts at NCAA broadcasters CBS and Turner Sports to be brand ambassadors through March Madness.

Kenny Smith, Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Greg Anthony will all play a role in promoting many of the digital initiatives for Coke Zero, the company’s featured brand during March Madness marketing. Those deals with the broadcasters are struck independently from Coke’s deal with CBS and Turner.

All of this will unfold this month as Coca-Cola moves deeper into negotiations to renew its status as an NCAA corporate champion. Those talks are conducted with Turner and CBS, who own the NCAA’s marketing rights.

Coke is believed to pay close to $50 million a year for a multitude of rights that go well beyond the beverage category. Included in Coke’s rights are quick-service restaurants, pizza and other eatery categories. Those pass-through rights this year will go to longtime partner McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, Buffalo Wild Wings and Chili’s. Other Coke brands, such as Powerade, also activate through the NCAA deal.

The NCAA deal has enabled the company to establish and maintain closer ties to those restaurants that are strong Coke customers over the years.

Industry experts say they expect Coke to renew, possibly at the champion level — the NCAA’s top tier — but without many of those rights that drive the sponsorship fee to such heights. AT&T and Capital One are the other corporate champions; 11 companies make up the next tier, corporate partners.

Among other assets that will come up in the discussions are Coke’s presenting sponsorships for Bracket Town at the men’s Final Four and Tourney Town at the women’s Final Four, its commitment to the Big Dance concert series and all of the media time that is baked into the deal.

Coke officials would not comment on any of the negotiations, but William White, group brand director for Coke Zero, said, “We really do like the partnership, and it’s been a great fit for Coke Zero. We’ve been partners [with the NCAA] for a long time and we place a lot of value on that. … March Madness is unlike any other property we associate with because it’s three weeks of unrivaled passion.”

Moving forward this month, Coke Zero will be prominent on March Madness Live, on the TV broadcasts, and on the mobile delivery of the games.

One text-to-win initiative started late in February and stretches into March, while “Watch and Score,” another text-to-win contest, ramps up this week with the start of the NCAA tournament.

“What we’re trying to do is create more tools to help fans follow the tournament and enjoy the tournament on all three screens — TV, online and mobile,” White said. “There were 23 million unique digital users in 2011 on March Madness on Demand, and we want to continue to tap into that very relevant online space. Now you’ve got it going to more iPads, other tablets, the Android system, so there’s an opportunity to reach even more folks.”

“Watch and Score” will be Coke Zero’s platform to give away tickets to the Final Four and other prize packages that include special access to Coke Zero’s concert with the Black Keys in New Orleans.

The offices of Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami and Boulder, Colo., work on all of Coke’s consumer-facing advertising and digital initiatives, including Coke Zero’s existing “Enjoy Everything” campaign.

Atlanta-based Melt works on activation in New Orleans, as well as a 30-minute special Coke Zero will sponsor with Gumbel on the Saturday of the Final Four.

The Starcom MediaVest Group is the media planning and buying agency, while Taylor handles public relations.