Author speaks on Gatorade's marketing juggernaut
Darren Rovell, ESPN.com reporter and author of Gatorade’s success story, talked about the book, the brand, and the business of sports at Krannert in October.
Titled First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon, Rovell’s book tells the story of how Gatorade was invented, marketed, and has vanquished all comers to the sports-drink industry for the last 40 years.
Rovell said that Gatorade has all the requisite qualities to be a killer brand: It’s scientifically proven to do what it says — provide hydration for athletes and consumers — and works better than both water and competitors’ products. The public accepts and trusts the product, and the company pounds the brand into the sports consumer’s consciousness in virtually every sport, venue, and medium.
The author also shared a Purdue-Gatorade connection that he details in the book. “Purdue was an easy Gatorade customer,” said Rovell. “Not only did many Purdue alumni work for Stokely-Van Camp — Gatorade’s parent company — but the school’s campus was only 65 miles from Stokely’s headquarters.”
Rovell said the use of Gatorade by Purdue athletes helped the company market its product to cross-state rival Notre Dame, which came into West Lafayette in 1967 as the nation’s top-ranked football team and left in defeat. “As legend has it,” he said, “just two days after the 28-21 victory by the Boilermakers, a Notre Dame team representative who was aware of the drink disparity ordered 20 cases.”
In his book, Rovell goes further inside Gatorade’s successes in marketing, advertising, and endorsements, as well as behind closed corporate doors into the company’s negotiations, legal wrangles, strategies, its wins, and very few losses. He also reveals the nine “Gatorade Rules,” or principles that have made Gatorade so successful and can be adopted by other businesses that want to develop their own distinctive brands.
The speaker also addressed the business of sports in general, as well as the growing interest management students have in the industry. While most of those who work in sports begin as fans, the potential for wealth is also an attraction, Rovell said.
“Depending on how you measure it, the sports industry generates between $100 million and $200 million in revenue every year. It’s the only business that has its own section of the newspaper,” he said. “In 10 years, there will be more people who want to be sports agents than want to be athletes.”
A graduate of Northwestern University, Rovell contributes to a number of ESPN shows, including Sports Center, Outside the Lines, and Cold Pizza, as well as to ESPN radio affiliates. He is co-author of On the Ball: What You Can Learn About Business from America’s Sports Leaders, and was named to Newsbios’ 2004 “30 Under 30” list as one of the top 30 national business reporters under 30 years old.
— Mike Lillich/Eric Nelson