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Shaq Had Nothing to Do With Coke’s Forum Decision, Pepsi Charges

September 5, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Pepsi-Cola said Wednesday it will be a new sponsor of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings, replacing rival Coca-Cola whose five-year deal with the professional sports teams ended Aug. 31.

Pepsi said it was chosen in a bidding war with Coke and other soft drink makers, countering Coke’s claim that it chose to withdraw its sponsorship because of newly signed Lakers center and Pepsi endorser Shaquille O’Neal.

``They threw in the towel after they lost the fight,″ Pepsi spokeswoman Alyssa Schaier charged Wednesday in a telephone interview from the company’s headquarters in Somers, N.Y.

The move was the latest salvo in the heated war between the cola giants over pro sports sponsorships, which allow the company to use team logos in local promotions.

More leagues, teams and players are cutting separate deals with sponsors to raise revenue. At the same time, sponsors are demanding exclusivity to help their sponsorships stand out from the marketing crowd.

Last year, Pepsi bought the rights to sell its soft drink at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Coke, however, has maintained the rights to the Cowboys name and logo and answered Pepsi’s move by signing Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikamn.

Coca-Cola on Tuesday said it wouldn’t renew its five-year marketing agreement with the Great Western Forum, where both the Lakers and Kings play. It cited O’Neal as the reason.

``It makes no sense for Coca-Cola to sponsor a team whose marquee player endorses the competition,″ company spokesman Steve Koonin said in a news release.

Pepsi officials said the soft drink maker had already reached a verbal agreement with the Forum when Coca-Cola issued its statement. They accused Coke of using O’Neal as a way to put a better spin on the story.

Coke was unaware of any competitive bids, said company spokesman Robert Baskin, who again said that O’Neal’s addition to the Lakers was the reason the cola maker did not renew its contract.

``Was there a bidding war? Not that we’re aware of,″ Baskin said. ``They never came to us and said, `Company X has bid this. Can you match this?‴

Mark Scoggins, executive vice president of California Sports Inc., which represents the Forum and Lakers, confirmed Pepsi’s claim that the companies had verbally come to terms prior to Coke’s announcement.

He said Coca-Cola rejected two offers to sign a new sponsorship deal and submitted a counter-offer about three weeks ago _ long after O’Neal signed with the Lakers as a free agent _ that the teams turned down as unacceptable, he said.

Baskin declined to comment on Scoggins’ claim, saying he didn’t think it appropriate to comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

Pepsi declined to discuss terms of the deal. Scoggins described it only as a ``multimillion-dollar deal for multiple years.″ He said the Forum and Lakers were pleased with the pact.

``We look forward to our new relationship with Pepsi and we’re very pleased with the aggressive marketing and promotional ideas that they presented us during our negotiating process,″ he said.

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