Coca-Cola Deepening its Ties in Triathlon

The practice is standard for many long-course triathletes. Drink Coca-Cola during the run. I admit, in the heat of competition, I’ve relied on it too.

Pass through any aid station on the run course of a half-Ironman or full Ironman distance triathlon, and Coke will be one of the beverage offerings. It’s also common at many ultra-marathons.174933_web_Ironman_0335

Take two-time IRONMAN World Champion Chris McCormack who once said in an interview, “the best sports drink in the world is Coca-Cola!” For three-time World Champion, Craig Alexander, it’s the same.

Now, Coca-Cola is deepening its position in triathlon. It’s products wont just appear at aid stations, but a new Coca-Cola-sponsored professional triathlon team, “Team Bravo,” will race with its logo on their kits. The team includes some top pros, and four “up-and-coming” pros from Brazil, including the likes of Tim Don, Rachel Joyce, and Paul Matthews. Craig Alexander’s also affiliated with the new team in a coaching role.

It’s a situation that pits performance versus health. From a pure performance standpoint, yes, Coke has its place. According to the manager who represents Don, Joyce and Matthews, Coke is “the most authentic product used in triathlon.” Looking at Coke from a health standpoint, though, the evidence is unequivocal. It’s bad stuff that’s contributing to all sorts of health issues around the world, from obesity to chronic diseases to even mental health issues. And the sugar industry is employing some of the same coercive marketing tactics as the tobacco industry did to encourage consumption.

Credit: http://triathlon.competitor.com/2015/02/news/coca-cola-triathlon-team_112528
Credit: http://triathlon.competitor.com/2015/02/news/coca-cola-triathlon-team_112528

That’s what makes this such a tricky situation. The same manager for Don, Joyce, and Matthews also acknowledged about Coke, “This is a product that has been involved in the sport for a long time but it has never had a commercial value.” The fact that this new Coke-sponsored team has significant ties to Brazil, and some of the sponsorship dollars are coming from an investor with Coca-Cola’s Brazil office, there are no doubt commercial implications. Brazil is Coca-Cola’s fourth-largest market by sales volume.

From a marketing perspective, the move by Coca-Cola is brilliant. It reinforces the company’s ongoing stance that we can consume Coke as part of a healthy lifestyle. Professional triathlete lives healthy lifestyle. Professional triathlete consumes Coke (though usually just while racing). Bam, healthy lifestyle can include consumption of Coke because that’s what professional triathletes do. (We can debate whether IRONMAN triathletes are, in fact, healthy, given the amount of stress they put on their bodies. But that’s another topic.)

This has a familiar ring to it. Anyone recall the rise of Gatorade? What started out as a purely sports performance drink is now ubiquitous and consumed by just about anyone.

And this is the slippery slope. How much legitimacy are we affording Coca-Cola by allowing it even more influence in the sport? What will be the broader ramifications (if any), especially at a time when the health community is trying everything possible to decrease consumption of soda and other sugary drinks? We shall see.

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