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Originally published May 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 24, 2007 at 2:00 AM

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Jones Soda scores upset at Qwest

Jones Soda never would have signed a deal with Qwest Field if it were just about selling drinks at a stadium. While it's a big deal to serve...

Seattle Times business reporter

Jones Soda never would have signed a deal with Qwest Field if it were just about selling drinks at a stadium.

While it's a big deal to serve the 1.5 million people who visit Qwest annually for football and other events, Jones founder and CEO Peter van Stolk said the five-year contract announced Wednesday is also a springboard for further growth.

Seattle-based Jones is generating a slew of new products to accompany its debut as the exclusive soft-drink provider at Qwest Field in July.

At a country-music concert there July 7, Jones will debut its first cola — sweetened, like all its drinks, with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup — and its first bottled-water product, said van Stolk.

The company is working on a special Seahawks drink and is producing its first 20-ounce bottles to sell at the stadium and elsewhere.

Jones will be able to use the Seahawks logo outside Qwest Field, too, and wants to include rotating pictures of players and fans on its bottles.

Van Stolk figures the new products and packaging will reach millions more outside the stadium.

Undisclosed sum

Jones beat out Coca-Cola in bidding for the Qwest Field business but will not disclose how much it is paying for the pouring rights. Coke had pouring rights for the Seahawks for most of the past 30 years.

On Wednesday, the company received calls from other pro-sports venues interested in carrying Jones Soda, but van Stolk is focused on Qwest for now.

"My job in 2007 and 2008 is to blow away the fans," he said in a telephone interview from New York.

"I want people running up and down the aisles taking pictures of Seahawks fans and putting those on the bottles, so they can see how excited Seahawks fans are."

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Susan Stribling, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola North America in Atlanta, said, "It's pretty unusual for large, pro-team-affiliated venues not to be either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. ... I don't know if it's unprecedented, but it's definitely unusual.

"Unfortunately, we just weren't able to reach an agreement with the Seahawks, so our partnership has ended," Stribling said.

Coke plays hard in NFL

In the NFL, Coke now has partnerships with 16 teams and 17 stadiums, she said. The additional stadium is the Metrodome in Minneapolis, which pours only Coke products but whose football team, the Minnesota Vikings, allows only Pepsi to use its name outside the stadium.

Sports partnerships are huge marketing opportunities for vendors, which is why Coke, Pepsi, beer companies and others compete so hard for the business.

In many cases, though, they don't add much to the bottom line.

"The focus on stadium deals is not to make revenue," said Rob Martin, vice president of merchandising and production at Tully's Coffee in Seattle, which once poured coffee at Qwest Field and had exclusive deals with the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants.

"It's more about building brand awareness," Martin said.

Jones did not go looking for the Qwest and Seahawks business, van Stolk said. "They asked us to bid, and we said we'd be honored."

He thinks being the smaller player helped.

"When you're the little guy, you tend to look at things differently and react to what the Seahawks want," he said.

But, he added, "We want to be a $1 billion brand, and you have to make these decisions to get there."

Investors evidently liked the deal, sending Jones shares up more than 8 percent to $21.64 during regular trading.

The announcement comes just two months after Jones said it has begun to sell canned soda through major national retailers including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Kroger.

And it gives van Stolk more good news to recap at next week's annual shareholders meeting.

Maybe by then, he will have settled on a name for Jones' new bottled water. For now, it just has a tagline: "Wet Yourself."

"That's what you do when you drink water, right? You wet yourself," van Stolk explained.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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