Coca-Cola is to take its sponsorship of the Olympic Movement into an unprecedented second century under a restructured deal that will see it share ownership of the worldwide beverage category with a Chinese dairy producer, China Mengniu Dairy Company.
The deal, which extends Coca-Cola's support for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for a further 12 years until 2032, was announced by IOC President Thomas Bach here early this morning.
The odd timing of the announcement, on the day when the host city of the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics is due to be chosen, suggests that those concerned may have been bounced into going public by suggestions the story was about to break in China.
Bach said the partnership was "unique in different respects".
He added: "Getting these two companies together from these two countries at this moment in time is another example of the unifying power of sport."
The valuation of the deal has been put at anything between $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion/€1.3 billion) and $3 billion (£2.3 billion/€2.6 billion), depending on whether the value of media spending agreed to by the two partners is included.
James Quincey, chairman and chief executive of Coca-Cola, said the deal represented "tradition and innovation".
"I look forward to many more years of this fantastic partnership," he said.
The American drinks giant had found a "kindred spirit" in Mengniu, he added.
Jeffrey Lu, chief executive of Mengniu, said the Chinese company's vision – "to bring health and joy to the consumer" – was "the same as our partner here through sports".
He said that Mengniu products were consumed in 87 per cent of Chinese homes.
Bach acknowledged that the partnership "was not easy to establish".
Last Friday (June 21), the Caixin website reported that China's largest dairy producer, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, had "threatened to pull its sponsorship of the Games because its rival China Mengniu Dairy Co. Ltd. has allegedly infringed on its status as the sole sponsor of dairy products for the [Beijing] 2022 Winter Olympics".
Caixin continued: "Yili released an open letter on its WeChat account that accused Mengniu of circumventing the Beijing Winter Olympics Organising Committee to become a 'joint global beverages partner' of the International Olympic Committee with Coca-Cola Co."
The article said the letter had since been removed from Yili's account.
Questioned about this, Bach said the new deal "fully respects" existing rights and that no compensation payment would be required.
It is understood that the Yili deal specifically excludes drinkable products.
The IOC President said that the organisation was not actively seeking other joint partnerships.
According to Caixin, Mengniu's majority shareholder is Cofco Corporation "which has had a longstanding agreement with Coca-Cola since 1979".
Coca-Cola sponsored the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, and has supported every Games since.
Commercial sponsorship is the IOC's second-biggest source of funding after broadcasting rights.
Chinese companies are becoming increasingly prominent backers of international sports; Alibaba is already a worldwide Olympic partner and Wanda is a top-tier FIFA sponsor.
Other members of the IOC's worldwide sponsorship programme include Atos, Bridgestone, Dow and GE.
Intel, Omega – also confirmed through to 2032 – Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, Toyota and Visa complete the list.