Sports Sponsorship: Coke Aims to Build its ‘Legacy’ in Soccer with a ‘Beats, Cleats & Eats’ MLS All-Star Activation

“This was the first year there where we’ve really had a multicultural strategy with soccer. And it is important to have that based on the audience that we have—a strong Hispanic base, how are we talking to the Black audience? What really resonates with the multicultural audience? And looking at the data, music and art are two of those things. If you want to speak to that audience with soccer, how are you incorporating one, if not both, of those items?”

–Bria Washington, Manager-Sports Marketing, Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola MLS All-Star Week 2023_sampling bar

During the two-day activation, Coke distributed 8,100 samples of products from across its portfolio.

Coca-Cola and the U.S. Soccer Federation inked a landmark deal over the summer, committing to a long-term partnership aimed at accelerating soccer’s growth “at every level” across North America. So as Coke headed into the 2023 MLS All-Star Week with its third annual “Beats, Cleats & Eats” activation, the brand had its sights set on building on its “legacy” within the sport by both connecting with diehard supporters and inviting casual fans into the fold. Armed with a multicultural strategy, hand-selected brand partners, a unique location on The Wharf in Washington, D.C., and celebrity talent, Coca-Cola ultimately saw 20,000 people pass through its two-day experience. Along the way, they guzzled down 8,100 samples.

The MLS Soccer Celebration serves as an annual All-Star Week fan festival, which this year was presented by Coke Zero Sugar. Beats, Cleats & Eats took place within the broader fan event (from July 15-16) on the Transit Pier, serving as a destination that highlighted key facets of North American soccer culture, from food to music to art, and spoke to its diverse fan base. Accordingly, Coke recruited partners for the activation that could touch on each of those pillars. Think: Captain Morgan serving up cocktails mixed with Coca-Cola products, Campbell Snacks and DoorDash offering bites, and JLab delivering musical touchpoints. But it was something of a balancing act to keep Coke front and center while also allowing its partners to shine.

coke-mens-final-four-2023-oversized-hoop_teaserMore from Coke’s Event Portfolio:

“I didn’t want Coke to get lost. I didn’t want it to just be a solo JLab activation within a Coke footprint,” says Bria Washington, manager-sports marketing at Coca-Cola. “It was like, ‘Hey, how can we collaborate with you? Can we do Coke-branded headphones as a giveaway?’ With DoorDash, we did a program through the app where people at home watching the MLS All-Star Game could order from their favorite food location with a promo if they bought a Coke with it. Campbell Snacks is a partner that we even work with in retail. So just natural [brand] integration… We made sure Coke was integrated throughout, but definitely still wanted their brand voices to be heard.”

Interactivity was the name of the game across Beats, Cleats & Eats, with plenty of fun ways for fans to engage with Coke and its partners. DoorDash invited attendees to play a Skee-Ball-like soccer game and check out a “Locker Room” experience, BODYARMOR offered a kicking engagement and JLab had a prize wheel that proved to be popular. Meanwhile, a range of samples from Coca-Cola’s product portfolio were distributed from a central station within the footprint, including Coke Zero Sugar’s range of flavors, Smartwater, BODYARMOR and the latest Coke Creation flavor, Ultimate. A dj spinning tracks and cooling zones didn’t hurt, either.

Coke offered some added incentives for attendees to stick around the footprint on both days of the activation. On Saturday, that included a performance by “TrapHouseJazz” artist Masego, followed by an MLS Watch Party on a big screen on the lawn. On Sunday, as part of its eMLS All-Star Challenge sponsorship, the brand provided a free-play gaming station where gaming influencers and celebs like Chad Ochocinco Johnson battled with attendees for hours.

Fans at nearby watering holes were also invited to engage with Coke during All-Star Week. The brand dished out watch party kits at local bars featuring branded items like glasses, posters and pennants. Washington says tackling the bar/tavern space is essential for meeting soccer fans where they are.

Charity was another component of the program. Coca-Cola tapped into its partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, working with three local D.C. clubs to give kids ages 13-17 access to design workshops led by local agency Project Create. The youth learned about the design process, careers available in the art and design industry, and how it all tied back to soccer, including how jerseys are made and how creative campaigns are built around the sport. As part of the initiative, the kids could also enter a Stars Aligned design contest, with the winning art featured at Beats, Cleats & Eats. The brand is already looking to expand on the project next year.

“Everyone’s trying to have a great voice in the soccer space, and what that looks like and everyone’s goals and objectives are different,” says Washington. But the power when you can bring brands together to accomplish something is huge because we have different audiences. So we could tap into JLab’s audience, we could tap into Campbell’s—that only benefits us.” Agency: 160over90.

More from Beats, Cleats & Eats:

Coca-Cola MLS All-Star Week 2023 branding
Coca-Cola MLS All-Star Week 2023 Masego performance
Coca-Cola MLS All-Star Week 2023fan kicking ball beats, cleats & eats

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
View all articles by Kait Shea →

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