On Tuesday, PepsiCo announced a global partnership with EA Sports focused on “EA Sports FC,” the hugely popular soccer game series formerly known as “FIFA.”
The deal involves three of PepsiCo’s flagship brands — Pepsi, Gatorade and Lay’s — and has a term of several years, although Adam Warner, PepsiCo’s head of global sports and partnerships, declined to specify the exact duration or financial value of the deal.
“This is a real partnership; This is very deeply rooted in our creating mutual value for each other’s businesses and brands,” Warner said. “If you think about what we can do for each other by expanding audience reach and deepening fan engagement, we both believe we bring very special value to each other in this area.”
Pepsi’s relationships with professional soccer leagues like the UEFA Champions League have seen Pepsi brands occasionally featured in previous versions of the EA soccer game – but this partnership takes the brand’s presence within the popular title to the next level, replete with branded in- Game events and activations based on PepsiCo products. The agreement makes it clear that PepsiCo will invest in in-game advertising for years to come, both at EA FC and beyond.
To learn more about the strategy behind the deal, Digiday spoke to Adam Warner for an annotated question-and-answer session.
This interview has been edited and abridged for length and clarity.
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Whether the partnership reflects a move away from competitive gaming
No. I think this is about bringing together two companies and brands that have long admired each other. I don’t like putting too many labels on things – gaming, e-sports. As brands we have a very similar perspective and I think we define the ecosystem that we play in very expansively. Increasingly, this crossover in culture, whether you want to call it gaming or e-sports, this partnership will have a broad impact in all of these areas. So I wouldn’t break it down too much; I think I see it as simplistic and ambitious in terms of what we want to do.
It’s fair that Warner eschews labels when describing PepsiCo’s gaming marketing strategy; Finally, the definition of “eSports” has expanded in recent years to encompass many aspects of the gaming community that go beyond hardcore competitive play. But when it comes to the split between marketing efforts aimed at casual and competitive gamers, all is clear. Many brands have pulled out of esports specials in 2023, and PepsiCo is no exception.
For the most part over the past year, Pepsi, Gatorade and Lay’s have partnered with individual gaming influencers and traditional sports teams, rather than esports leagues or organizations, according to data platform GEEIQ. The last dedicated esports campaign by any of the three brands took place in May 2022 when Mountain Dew hosted a brand watch party with Call of Duty League teams. A deal with EA FC could give PepsiCo access to a much larger and more diverse group of players than its previous dedicated esports partnerships.
On the role of in-game advertising in the partnership
One of the pillars of the partnership is that we will benefit from visibility within the EA FC ecosystem and EA will benefit from visibility across a range of media. So there will be some in-game integrations from our brands, but we want to make sure we do it in an authentic and smooth way. So that’s a common principle that we have with the guys at EA.
In-game brand integrations are one of the strongest selling points of sports games like EA FC, as they aim to suck up the brands’ marketing dollars. While in-game integrations of real brands or products in wacky games like World of Warcraft or God of War can seem unrealistic or even ridiculous, sports games intentionally mimic real-world promotional environments, so fans won’t bat an eyelid, when they activate brands in titles like EA FC.
On the effect of EA and FIFA decoupling last year on the PepsiCo EA deal
We have long admired each other as companies and brands. We would have gotten together sooner if we could have. We can now, and we are happy to do so.
Warner didn’t specifically say whether FIFA’s involvement has prevented PepsiCo from working with EA in the past – but his statement is laden with clear implications. If PepsiCo had partnered with EA sooner, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine what changes over the past year might have helped bring the brands together. Finally, Coca-Cola, Pepsi’s ancestral rival, has sponsored FIFA since 1974.
The PepsiCo deal shows why EA’s decision to end its partnership with world soccer’s governing body in May 2022 may have been a boon for the game developer. Not only does EA need to withdraw its former $150 million-per-year royalty from FIFA, but it also no longer needs to involve FIFA in discussions with potential brand partners. As the relationship between EA and FIFA came to an end, lucrative deals with companies like PepsiCo were sure to follow.