The Clause That Refreshes

Ocean City's `Official Drink': Resort Town's Pact With Soda Maker Is Creative Financing.

April 26, 1997

EVER SINCE Ocean City announced its $1.1 million contract to make the soda with the "C" the "official drink" of Maryland's Atlantic resort, the telephone has been ringing at Mayor James Mathias' office a block from the beach.

A radio station from Canada called for an interview. A Honolulu official who had heard of it sought pointers for his own town. National Public Radio taped a segment. With all the publicity, the mayor and the soda with the "C" probably figure the deal is half paid for already.

Under the arrangement, the soda with the "C" will have "exclusive pouring rights" at Ocean City's major events, such as Sunfest or concerts on the beach. All vending machines on city properties will carry the company's beverages. If a vendor has an invoice proving a better deal with someone else, the soda with a "C" will match it, the mayor says.

Ocean City, in turn, receives $120,000 in cash for each of five years and $97,000 a year in in-kind promotions: Cans or six-pack wrappers will advertise Ocean City events. That equates to a 10 percent increase in the resort's $1 million advertising budget as the city prepares to open its expanded convention center next fall.

This deal isn't the first of its kind. Los Angeles beaches have promotional ties with several products. Atlanta has an official credit card. Buffalo, N.Y., even has an official paint. In fact, the deal isn't even a first for Ocean City: It cut a smaller one with a suntan lotion last summer to provide funds for beach safety programs. It also renegotiated with Esskay meats, whose name has graced big clocks on the town's historic boardwalk dating to the invention of french fries and caramel popcorn.

There's a debate raging in Boston now about giant faux soda bottles on a light stanchion above the "Green Monster" wall in Fenway Park. Many find such displays excessive, like the renaming of stadiums and sporting events for corporate lucre. But unless Ocean City dyes the Atlantic red and white or renames the bridges over Assawoman Bay, this arrangement hardly sells off the town's identity. In fact, it's a sweet deal.

Pub Date: 4/26/97

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