Welcome to Will It Stick? podcast, where hosts Melissa and Alexis cover creative advertising campaigns, PR stunts, and marketing activations that brands of all shapes and sizes pull, and dive into the research and data to understand if it worked and of course … Will It Stick?

what is the ONLY beverage that both basketball players in the NBA and football players in the NFL can drink on the sidelines at game?

Michael Jordan in a Gatorade Ad

Gatorade. Gatorade shells out big bucks to the NBA and NFL and a number of other sports to be THE brand you see on the sidelines. Gatorade spends somewhere around $18 million per year for its NBA exclusive partnership alone. Many times, it’s really just water (or maybe something else?) inside those Gatorade water bottles as these days, many players have their own magical concoctions of things they like to drink. But, it always appears as Gatorade. 

Michael Jordan Representing Gatorade

Since it’s inception, Gatorade has been directly associated with sports. I mean – even its founding happening on the football field. It was summer 1965, and the Univeristy of Florida assistant football coach Dewayne Douglas had a problem that he needed to solve. Many of his players were “wilting” in the heat – they couldn’t handle it. He was also wondering why his players never needed to pee during games…. I mean it’s Florida. Hot and HUMID. He approached a group of scientists on the University campus and asked if they had an ideas about how he could replace the bodily fluids lost during physical exertion in the heat. The scientists, led by Dr. James Robert Cade, got to work. Cade figured that he could solve the problem by helping players replace those lost resources, so he stirred together some sodium, sugar and monopotassium phosphate with water to create a drink soon dubbed Gatorade, after the University of Florida’s nickname: the Gators. 

Michael Jordan in a Gatorade ad

It was originally going to be called Gator-Aid, but there were a few problems with that….one being that the FDA had a rule that if you used the word “AID” you had to back up your medical claims…that was a lot of hoops and red tape. So they simply made it ‘ADE”. Also, they saw the commercial opportunities they had by not just directly trying it to the Gators, so they wanted to pay homage but not be named something specific). 

The drink they first created contained salts and sugars that could be absorbed more quickly, but in its early days it tasted AWFUL. In fact, many of the athletes would vomit after drinking it. 

I mean these were scientists making the drink, NOT foodies! They quickly added some lemon flavoring to make it more appealing and there was less puking happening after that. They ran informal trials on something like 10 players who drank this new concoction while the others did not, and apparently – it worked. Soon the whole team was on board. 

In 1967, Gatorade gained major credibility across the country when the Gators football team credited their first Orange Bowl win over the Georiga Tech Yellow Jackets to Gatorade. Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Dodd was famous asked about the teams’ loss and he was quoted saying ‘We didn’t have Gatorade. That made the difference.” That’s a pretty solid endorsement and immediately the drink gained popularity in the larger sports communty. Just a few years later in 1969, Gatorade entered into an agreement with Stokely-Van Camp, Inc., a canned food packaging company, with the U.S. rights to produce and sell Gatorade and that very same year, a licensing agreement made Gatorade the official sports drink of the NFL. 

You’ve heard of and seen the Gatorade shower, right? Actually originally it was called the Gatorade Dunk…do you know how it came to be? It actually started in the mid 80s, when Harry Carson and Jim Burt of the New York Giants doused head coach Bill Parcells during the 1985 season. It took off like wildfire after that and now we see it after almost every championship game. 

By 2015, royalities from Gatorade to the original founders, their familie and the University surpassed $1 billion.  Today, Gatorade dominates the U.S. sports drink category, holding a 72.1% market share of retail sales and is owned by Pepsi. But, before it was owned by Pepsi….it was purchased by Quaker Oats in 1983 for $220 million….they won it over bidding rival Pillsbury. 

There are a lot of angles we could cover when it comes to Gatorade… but the biggest, most iconic one IMO is the Be Like Mike campaign. In this episode we dive into how the campaign came to be and the results.

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Special thank you to Bob Roth of Cypress Homecare Solutions & host of Health Futures: Taking Stock in You.

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