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PEPSI'S BIG PLAY <br> TACKLES COCA-COLA AT ORCHARD PARK STADIUM

The soft drink billing itself for the next generation wants to be a catalyst to keep the Bills in Buffalo for the next generation.

PepsiCo Inc.'s new sponsorship as official soft drink of the Buffalo Bills gives the company pouring rights at the team's stadium in Orchard Park for four years.

Pepsi's four-year deal is worth slightly more than $3 million, beginning with a $350,000 payment to the Bills this season and similar payments in subsequent seasons, according to sources familiar with the deal.

The remaining compensation is "soft money" Pepsi would spend marketing the Bills from Albany to Binghamton to Erie, Pa., to help build the team's future fan base. The marketing plan includes printing Bills schedules and the ticket hot line number on cola cans sold in upstate New York.

The switch to Pepsi also represents the Bills' first major move up a trail blazed by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who broke Coke's exclusivity in National Football League stadiums several years ago when he bucked the league and made Pepsi the official drink of his team's stadium.

The Bills have other new local sponsorships this year, including McDonalds as the official fast food and Xerox as official office imaging company.

"We've been very aggressive on the local level looking at category sponsorships," said Russ Brandon, executive director of marketing for the Bills. "The days of slapping a sign up and throwing an ad in the program book are behind us . . . You want to get in marketing relationships with your marketing partners."

Pepsi's initial payment to the Bills comes during the only season the company is guaranteed to have pouring rights at home games. Unless the team sells $11 million in luxury seating by Dec. 1, the Bills could leave Buffalo after this season. The Pepsi contract is nullified if the Bills leave Erie County.

"The Bills are very important to the community. We felt, now that we can use their trademark, it was time for us to step up and help keep the Bills here," said Scott D. Pastor, vice president of sales and marketing for Pepsi-Cola Buffalo Bottling Corp.

"For the past four years, we've been working with the Bills to become the official soft drink, but the problem was we couldn't use the Bills' trademark because Coke had an exclusive NFL contract."

Coca-Cola is the still the official soft drink of the NFL. Coke signed a new four-year deal with the league in May, extending an 11-year alliance. But Coke's deal no longer includes exclusive team logo rights. Coke's watered-down soft-drink sponsorship costs only about $4 million a year, rather than the $15 million annually Coke previously paid the NFL.

The Bills become the first team switching to Pepsi under a local sponsorship.

"Pepsi is the dominant soft drink in this market," said Brandon, who joined the Bills this year after working for the Florida Marlins. "We responded to our fans. That's their soft drink of choice."

Pepsi is indeed the pop of choice in Western New York, according to marketing data. Buffalo-area residents drink more Pepsi per capita than any market in the world, Pastor said.

According to A.C. Nielsen market research, Pepsi has about 32 percent of the brand name soft drink market in Buffalo and Rochester, with Coke far behind at 6 percent, Pastor said.

Pepsi's stranglehold in Buffalo appears to be strengthening this year with the Bills deal, a new Shea's contract switching pouring rights from Coke to Pepsi, and Pepsi's sponsorship for naming and pouring rights at the new Amherst ice rink.

Peter Benzino, vice president and general manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Buffalo, could not be reached to comment.

About 5,000 gallons of soft drinks were poured each season at the Bills' stadium, which is no longer called Rich Stadium after the team's previous lease expired July 31, Pastor said.

By contrast, about 25,000 gallons of Pepsi are poured each year at Marine Midland Arena and Bisons fans at NorthAmericare Park guzzle 15,000 gallons of Pepsi each season.

"There are not a lot of gallons poured out at the stadium. You do not sell a lot of soft drinks at the stadium," Pastor said.

So the sponsorship deal is primarily about joint marketing and keeping the team in Buffalo, he said.

The team's schedule, ticket order number, and Internet address will begin appearing on 12-ounce cans, 12-pack cans, 20-ounce bottles and 24-ounce bottles by Sept. 1.

"It's elements like that which are so important to having Pepsi be a catalyst," Brandon said.

Pepsi has also purchased two luxury boxes at the stadium and is sponsoring the Pepsi Community Section with 20 season tickets donated to local charities.

In addition to the Cowboys, Pepsi has also become the official stadium soft drink for the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks. RC Cola is the official soft drink at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

Pastor said Pepsi and the Bills discussed a deal last year to make Pepsi the official soft drink of Rich Stadium or of One Bills Drive, but wanted to wait until they could use the team trademark.

Although the team has been aggressive with product sponsorships, Bills owner Ralph Wilson has taken a stand against the ultimate commercialism. Wilson has thus far remained adamant about selling stadium naming rights.

Should the team's owner change his mind, another deal with Pepsi might be possible.

"Yes, Pepsi nationally would be very interested in naming the stadium," Pastor said.

Jeffrey Littman, treasurer for the Bills, reiterated Wilson's position Friday. He said the team's owner is absolutely certain about his decision not to sell the naming rights.

When it comes to the new era of professional sports, stadium naming rights can be a major economic factor.

Pepsi agreed to pay a reported $36 million for a multiyear sponsorship at Denver's new indoor arena. The Pepsi Center will open in 1999. Pepsi also has naming rights to the arena in Albany.

Coca-Cola is negotiating with the Denver Broncos for naming rights at their proposed new stadium.