Date: December 2003

When it comes to pouring rights at National Football League (NFL) stadiums, beer drinkers typically have a number of options, but the turf battle still rages on between Coke and Pepsi. Due to national liquor laws in place since prohibition, beer distributors are prohibited from securing exclusive pouring rights at NFL venues in connection with a marketing deal, according to a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“A beer wholesaler cannot force a retailer to buy his product at the exclusion of another product in exchange for advertising rights,” said ATF spokesman Art Resnick. As a result, beer distributors must separate their marketing and sales operations when it comes to working with NFL teams and venues.

Soda companies, however, are not placed under such strict scrutiny. That is why you will generally find a number of beer options at stadiums, where pouring rights are based on service, price and quality of product, according to Miller Brewing Co.'s Joan Zitzke, but only one soda option.

Soda distributors are free to reach exclusive pouring rights deals with as many teams and venues as they can net, which is why the competition to land pouring rights at stadiums is always fierce.

“Pouring rights in stadiums are separate from marketing rights with teams,” said Scott Williamson, a spokesman for Coca-Cola. “The use of team logos for marketing is sometimes sold with rights and sometimes not. A team can have pouring rights, while the other [company] has marketing rights.”

Williamson said the exclusive pouring rights typically last anywhere from three to 10 years. There is no agreement or connection between beer sales and soda sales, though both beverage suppliers constantly jockey for placement of banners and signage throughout the stadiums. Williamson also said the decision to bundle marketing and pouring rights is made on an individual basis.

“The marketing partnership comes down to whether we see an added value in partnering with the team on a local level. The relationship continues to evolve, as teams see the value of a company like Coca-Cola as a beverage provider and marketing partner that can help refresh fans while it helps to build their brand and enhance the overall experience in the stadium.”

Of the 31 NFL venues, 20 have exclusive contracts with Coke, 10 have Pepsi exclusives and the new Cowboys stadium offers Pepsi as well as Cadbury/Schweppes' Dr Pepper, a hometown favorite. In those stadiums, you are also likely to find products from both Miller and Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), as well as a more limited selection of imported beers and local and regional microbrews. 

Pepsi typically reaches multi-year deals for pouring rights, but spokeswoman Nicole Bradley could not give specifics on the average length of contracts. In addition to the rights, Pepsi typically gets signage as well, but, like Coca-Cola, any marketing deals are signed separately with the team. One of the venues in which Pepsi has an exclusive is Ford Field in Detroit, home to the NFL's Lions. The 10-year deal has been in place since the opening of the venue two years ago, according to Earle Fischer, director of marketing partnerships for Ford Field.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the soda rights deals are a combination of how the local market works,” Fischer said. “Usually, no soft drink can have the deal with all four venues in their market unless it's their home state. What product is in the venues is based on the financial and marketing commitment that company is willing to make to the team, but pouring and marketing rights generally go hand-in-hand.”

Fischer said that while Coke had rights to all four Detroit venues for a time, the deals lapsed after a while because it was not economically viable to sustain them. Hence, Coke has rights for the NBA's Pistons and NHL's Red Wings, while Pepsi flows at Ford Field and baseball's Comerica Park. Typical soft drink deals include in-stadium signage, media buys, hospitality suites (which often include tickets for clients and on-field visits), as well as print advertising and logos on promotions.

Both Miller and Anheuser-Busch declined to discuss which stadiums their products are available in, citing competitive reasons, but the venues were willing to discuss what flows during games. Fischer said that at Ford Field, as in many venues, there are a number of beer choices.

“Anheuser-Busch is the primary beer sponsor and in conjunction with that, they receive the largest percentage of taps,” Fischer said, again cautioning that the marketing deals are discussed only with the marketing teams and wholly separate from the concessions operations. The Field also serves Labatt and Heineken beer.