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Sports

The Gatorade Brand Enforcers of the MLB Post-Season


New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi (L) and Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers during press conferences

Photographs by Nick Wass/AP Photo, Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi (L) and Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers during press conferences

During the London Olympics, media outlets frequently referred to the “brand police”, a roving crew of eagle-eyed employees whose job was to make sure that only the logos of approved Olympic sponsors got anywhere near the TV cameras. Judging from the first week or so of the Major League Baseball playoffs, it appears that there is now a specialized subset of the brand police: the Gatorade SWAT Team.

During the regular season, most MLB teams stock their dugouts with either Gatorade (which is made by PepsiCo (PEP)) or Powerade (a Coca-Cola (KO) product). But the post-season is an MLB-controlled event, and Gatorade has been the Official Isotonic Beverage of MLB since 1990. You can guess what that means: Buh-bye, Powerade. The Gatorade-only policy is spelled out on posters that have been showing up in the dugouts during the playoffs, just in case the players forget.

A more surprising phenomenon has been playing out during pre- and post-game press conferences, at which players and coaches have been instructed to drink out of Gatorade-labeled cups—even if they’re not drinking Gatorade.

When Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson met the media prior to his team’s playoff game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 10, for example, he was instructed to pour his bottle of water into a Gatorade cup. According to a tweet from Washington Post reporter Adam Kilgore, Johnson found the routine a tad annoying:

“Davey miffed as an official made him pour water in a Gatorade cup prior to presser. After he finished, he said, ‘Mmm this Gatorade is good.’”
—Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP).

A similar scenario played out several hours later in the Bronx, as New York Yankees slugger Raúl Ibañez—who had just saved and then won the team’s playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles with two late-game home runs—made his way to the post-game interview area. David Waldstein, a reporter for the New York Times, captured the moment in this tweet:

“Ibanez, on his way into the interview room, had a bottle of water. Some flack asked him to pour it into a Gatorade cup. See it to his left?”
—David Waldstein (@DavidWaldstein).

Water in Gatorade cups—doesn’t that seem a bit deceptive? Not according to MLB spokesman Jeff Heckelman. “Nothing is being done differently this year, vs. past years, and it’s very common practice across all sports in this category,” he said in an e-mail. “The only difference this week is that a couple of tweets from reporters happened to make note of it.”

Fair enough. Still, it kind of makes you wonder what’s in those orange-and-white jugs in the dugout. Are they really filled with Gatorade?

“Some teams may have water in one of the coolers as an option for players not taking an active role in the game,” says Karen May, a Gatorade spokesperson. “But MLB and the teams endorse our products, so the coolers are typically filled with Gatorade products.”

A spokesperson for water could not be reached for comment.

Lukas is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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