With a portfolio that ranges from college basketball to NASCAR and online video game competitions, The Coca-Cola Co.’s Coke Zero has long embraced sports and entertainment as a platform to engage young adult males. 

In one of the brand’s more recent deals, Coke Zero last year partnered with ESPN’s College GameDay Built by the Home Depot to broaden its presence in the college sports space.

IEG SR spoke with Sharon Byers, Coca-Cola North America’s senior vice president of sports, entertainment and community marketing, about the thinking behind College GameDay and how the company activates the tie.

Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

How the partnership came about
We were talking to ESPN about opportunities for Coke Zero to be more prominent in the football landscape, especially college football.

College GameDay is a good fit. It’s the number one pregame show in college football and it’s an authentic platform for getting into college campuses. It brings fans into the excitement building into the games.

The partnership started as a media discussion but quickly evolved into a marketing discussion. We wanted Coke Zero to be an authentic part of the GameDay experience. We created the Section Zero best seat in the house program. The first weekend we hosted the program we were too far from camera angles. ESPN was great—they zoomed cameras on the field and within two or three weeks we became a fixture on the program. Fans were on social media talking about how they wanted to sit in Section Zero.

We built a compelling campaign at the Fan Combine where students competed for the chance to sit in Section Zero. If they painted their face they had an opportunity to sit in Section Zero. It was a huge home run.

How the program has evolved
We continue to evolve the program. Last year was our first shot—now we’re known. We understand what we have gotten into. There is more social, more digital and more impact with the production.

We also have signed up GameDay talent. They help us amplify what we’re doing. It started with digital shorts that we converted into television commercials during game broadcasts. We also bring talent to retail.

What’s wonderful about working for Coke is that we are nimble. If we see marketing opportunities we can make real-time changes. That’s what we did with College GameDay.