Derek Lewis is a proud Hampton University alumnus. The South Division president at PepsiCo Beverages North America said his experience at the Virginia institution taught him what is possible when people support each other and how influential a strong network can be.
Support of historically black colleges and universities has grown exponentially over the past year in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and fight for racial equality in the United States.
In an effort to further that support and involvement, PepsiCo Beverages North America and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) today announced a three-year partnership that makes PepsiCo the primary beverage sponsor of the conference, including the main beverage sponsor for all SWAC football and basketball championship games through 2023. PepsiCo, which replaces Coca-Cola, will be the exclusive carbonated soft drink, water, energy drink, muscle milk, juice and tea provider of SWAC football and basketball championships.
“Our partnership with the SWAC is as much about fostering HBCU student-athletes as it is about marketing,” Lewis said. “As part of the partnership, PepsiCo has committed to hiring a graduate from each HBCU in the SWAC. This fits squarely with our Racial Equality Journey because it allows us to put our money where our mouths are and encourage the career growth of Black students at HBCUs.
“It’s important for all companies—particularly those like Pepsi, with our global reach and massive footprint—to stand up for what they collectively believe in. We want our consumers to know what we stand for, and we know this is a step in the right direction.”
Announced in June 2020, PepsiCo’s Racial Equality Journey is a $400 million set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo.
As part of the partnership with the SWAC, signage and naming highlights included in PepsiCo’s corporate and presenting sponsorship of the SWAC Football Championship as well as the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament include exclusivity across beverage categories, logo displays on fields’ 50-yard lines, analog and digital logo displays, PA mentions, cable and digital media advertising, and local TV and radio. In-market promotional and fan activation opportunities, including the right to conduct market-wide sweepstakes each year, are included in the partnership as well.
“This partnership is significant for HBCUs and the SWAC in a variety of ways, but one of the primary aspects of this partnership that we’re most excited about is the expanded opportunities and access our students and student-athletes will have moving forward through internships and potential permanent employment,” SWAC commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland said. “Aside from clearly serving as a catalyst towards advancing the missions and brands of both entities, this partnership will also allow us a unique opportunity to accelerate the personal brands of our students and student-athletes and their ability to make all of their career and professional development dreams come true.”
Founded in 1920, the SWAC sponsors 10 women’s sports and eighth men’s for its 10 member institutions: Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, Alcorn State University, Grambling State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University, Texas Southern University, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
First-year Jackson State head football coach and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders will serve as a brand ambassador for the partnership while providing direction for program initiatives.
“I think we’ve done a wonderful job of getting the attention, but now that we’ve gotten the attention and focus, we’ve got to make something happen,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to put pen to paper and not only be in the spotlight but we’ve got to make it happen. That’s what Pepsi’s done—they’ve taken the initiative to truly make it happen not just here at Jackson State but a multitude of HBCUs across the country.
“I’m happy to be the conduit, to be the ambassador of the SWAC and this wonderful partnership. I can’t even tell you how wonderful and how large this is for us.”
Sanders, who was unveiled as head coach at JSU on September 21, 2020, has stressed that his appointment was bigger than football. He has made it a goal of his to help level the playing field for HBCU students and student-athletes, while leveraging his vast network of supporters, resources and connections including the NFL, Under Armour and Barstool Sports.
“All of it helps,” he said. “All of it is us bringing attention to those people and those situations that need focus, attention and help. Having Barstool, Pepsi and other partners is a tremendous asset to what we’re trying to accomplish.”