Mets fans going to watch their beloved National League champs in Queens next season will notice something different about Citi Field.
The giant Pepsi-Cola sign, perhaps the ballpark's most prominent and well-known feature, won't be high above the right-field stands. In its place will be a new logo, the one of Pepsi's fiercest competitor: Coca-Cola.
On Monday, top executives from the Mets and Coca-Cola -- along with their mascots, Mr. Met and the Coca-Cola Polar Bear -- will ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange, signaling the start of a long-term partnership between the entities. The contract with Pepsi expires Dec. 31.
Beginning in 2016, the concession workers at Citi Field will be filling jumbo souvenir cups with Coke instead of Pepsi, Dasani bottled water instead of Aquafina.
Ordinarily, a baseball team changing its soft-drink provider wouldn't generate much attention. But in the case of the Mets, the switch means more than simply what brand of beverages they serve.
In many ways, Pepsi has been a significant part of Citi Field's identity since it opened in 2009. The 37-by-89-foot sign, which resembles the one facing Manhattan from Long Island City, wasn't seen by the team and fans as just an advertisement but as a key component of the stadium's aesthetics.
The sign can be seen from downtown Flushing and from roadways nearby, a geographic reference point much like the Kenmore Square CITGO sign towering just beyond the left-field fence at Boston's Fenway Park.
Inside Citi Field, under the sign, is a section of seats that has become known affectionately as the Pepsi Porch, an anticipated landing spot for home-run balls, similar to Big Mac Land at St. Louis's Busch Stadium.
Now, the Mets are hoping that with a new name -- yet to be decided -- and a new sign, the place formerly known as the Pepsi Porch will have the same effect -- financially and emotionally.
"I think because it was such an ingrained part of our culture here, that's what made it very attractive to Coca-Cola," said Lou DePaoli, the Mets' chief revenue officer.
About this time last year, Mr. DePaoli said, the Mets started talking with Pepsi about renewing their deal.
Pepsi, which renewed its soda contract with the Yankees earlier this year, had been with the Mets since the team played at Shea Stadium, which Citi Field replaced.
As the 2015 season progressed, the Mets opened dialogue with Coca-Cola as well. By the middle of the summer, Mr. DePaoli said, "Coke was considerably way ahead of them."
At that point, Mr. DePaoli said, the Mets told Pepsi executives: "'You've got to come up with your best offer.'"
"It still wasn't enough," Mr. DePaoli said.
Pepsi executives learned about the switch from Mr. DePaoli during a playoff game -- in their suite. "They were stunned," he said.
Pepsi declined to comment on the specifics of their negotiations with the Mets.
In a statement, the company said, "Pepsi loves the great sport of baseball and will continue to excite fans both in the stadium and at home throughout the New York area and beyond. We had a productive relationship with the Mets and wish them all the best in the future, but decided to reinvest in baseball in a different way."
The Mets say they chose to proceed with Coca-Cola not only because of Coke's aggressive financial offer but also because of its plans beyond the ballpark. Starting next month, Coke products commemorating the Mets' run to the World Series in 2015 will be sold in stores across the region, a crucial component of the agreement.
"We are excited by the innovative marketing programs we have developed for the 2016 season, and are certain that they will inspire moments of optimism and happiness both on and off Citi Field," Sandy Douglas, the president of Coca-Cola North America, said in a statement.
Coke, it seems, latched onto the Mets at just the right time: The Mets won their first pennant since 2000 last season and will enter 2016 with their highest expectations in years.
As for the Pepsi-Cola sign, a Mets spokesman said it is owned by Pepsi and will be coming down soon.
Dow Jones Newswires