News: Jones Soda wins Qwest Field beverage rights

Typically when you attend an event at a sports stadium or arena, the location either serves Coke or Pepsi exclusively. Due to a recent deal, however, it seems that folks attending Seattle Seahawks games and other events at Qwest Field will have the pleasure of drinking Jones Soda exclusively, as the Seattle-based company beat out Coke to the the exclusive soft-drink sponsor of the stadium.

Jones Soda Cream Soda (Pure Cane Soda Version)

This was a huge marketing coup, to say the least. The deal is for 5 years and includes the rights by Jones to include images of players on the bottle labels.

To meet the cola need, Jones will be rolling out some new flavors, including their own cola, diet cola, and lemon-lime, as well as branching into some new beverage categories.

Here are a couple of news stories about the deal…

Let’s start with a story from the Associated Press:

Jones Soda wins sole rights to sell soft drinks at Qwest Field

May 23, 10:23 PM EDT
AP Business Writer

SEATTLE (AP) — Cola, diet cola or … grass-stain flavored soda?

That’s a choice Seattle Seahawks fans might be making at home-field concession stands starting in August, thanks to a five-year deal announced Wednesday between Qwest Field and local soft-drink maker Jones Soda Co.

Jones Soda, with annual revenue of $39 million in 2006, unseated The Coca-Cola Co. as the sole provider of nonalcoholic beverages at the NFL team’s stadium. Coke, which sold $24.09 billion in goods last year, held soft drink pouring rights for the Seahawks from 1977 to 1998 and from 2002 until this year, the company told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

At Qwest Field, fans will be able to buy Jones Soda as a fountain drink, in cans and in plastic bottles the company is developing for the venue.

Jones Soda is known for kooky limited-edition flavors (turkey and gravy – and antacid – from a holiday 2006 collection), bright colors (blue bubble gum) and labels with striking photographs, some submitted by consumers. The company’s soda line started with six flavors in 1996.

Fans will still be able to order a cola at Qwest Field, said Jones Soda’s Chief Executive Officer Peter van Stolk, but unlike Coke, it will be sweetened with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

The CEO said he’s also playing around with ideas – including “grass stain” – for a signature Seahawks flavor. (Actually, Qwest Field is covered by FieldTurf, an artificial surface.)

As part of the deal, Jones Soda will be an official sponsor of the Seahawks; van Stolk said the company plans to print photos of team members and fans on plastic bottles sold at the stadium and on glass bottles sold at retail. The ability to customize bottles with photos was a key selling point during negotiations with the stadium and the team, van Stolk said.

“We want to give the fans a really cool experience. Jones Soda is not Coca-Cola, and we will do things differently,” van Stolk said in an interview. “The Seattle Seahawks are our football team. That’s reality. I care about if they go to the playoffs. I care about what the score is.”

The agreement is set to expire Feb. 28, 2012, and Jones Soda has first right to renew or extend the deal, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Seahawks spokeswoman Suzanne Lavender confirmed that Jones Soda “will serve as the exclusive premium branded soft drink for the Seattle Seahawks and Qwest Field Event Center.”

Shares of the soda company jumped $1.65, or 8.3 percent, to end the day at $21.64.

And for the local report, coverage from The Seattle Times:

Jones Soda scores upset at Qwest
Thursday, May 24, 2007

By Melissa Allison
Seattle Times business reporter

Jones Soda never would have signed a deal with Qwest Field if it were just about selling drinks at a stadium.

While it’s a big deal to serve the 1.5 million people who visit Qwest annually for football and other events, Jones founder and CEO Peter van Stolk said the five-year contract announced Wednesday is also a springboard for further growth.

Seattle-based Jones is generating a slew of new products to accompany its debut as the exclusive soft-drink provider at Qwest Field in July.

At a country-music concert there July 7, Jones will debut its first cola — sweetened, like all its drinks, with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup — and its first bottled-water product, said van Stolk.

The company is working on a special Seahawks drink and is producing its first 20-ounce bottles to sell at the stadium and elsewhere.

Jones will be able to use the Seahawks logo outside Qwest Field, too, and wants to include rotating pictures of players and fans on its bottles.

Van Stolk figures the new products and packaging will reach millions more outside the stadium.

Undisclosed sum

Jones beat out Coca-Cola in bidding for the Qwest Field business but will not disclose how much it is paying for the pouring rights. Coke had pouring rights for the Seahawks for most of the past 30 years.

On Wednesday, the company received calls from other pro-sports venues interested in carrying Jones Soda, but van Stolk is focused on Qwest for now.

“My job in 2007 and 2008 is to blow away the fans,” he said in a telephone interview from New York.

“I want people running up and down the aisles taking pictures of Seahawks fans and putting those on the bottles, so they can see how excited Seahawks fans are.”

Susan Stribling, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola North America in Atlanta, said, “It’s pretty unusual for large, pro-team-affiliated venues not to be either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. … I don’t know if it’s unprecedented, but it’s definitely unusual.

“Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to reach an agreement with the Seahawks, so our partnership has ended,” Stribling said.

Coke plays hard in NFL

In the NFL, Coke now has partnerships with 16 teams and 17 stadiums, she said. The additional stadium is the Metrodome in Minneapolis, which pours only Coke products but whose football team, the Minnesota Vikings, allows only Pepsi to use its name outside the stadium.

Sports partnerships are huge marketing opportunities for vendors, which is why Coke, Pepsi, beer companies and others compete so hard for the business.

In many cases, though, they don’t add much to the bottom line.

“The focus on stadium deals is not to make revenue,” said Rob Martin, vice president of merchandising and production at Tully’s Coffee in Seattle, which once poured coffee at Qwest Field and had exclusive deals with the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants.

“It’s more about building brand awareness,” Martin said.

Jones did not go looking for the Qwest and Seahawks business, van Stolk said. “They asked us to bid, and we said we’d be honored.”

He thinks being the smaller player helped.

“When you’re the little guy, you tend to look at things differently and react to what the Seahawks want,” he said.

But, he added, “We want to be a $1 billion brand, and you have to make these decisions to get there.”

Investors evidently liked the deal, sending Jones shares up more than 8 percent to $21.64 during regular trading.

The announcement comes just two months after Jones said it has begun to sell canned soda through major national retailers including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Kroger.

And it gives van Stolk more good news to recap at next week’s annual shareholders meeting.

Maybe by then, he will have settled on a name for Jones’ new bottled water. For now, it just has a tagline: “Wet Yourself.”

“That’s what you do when you drink water, right? You wet yourself,” van Stolk explained.