With the stage set for the Pittsburgh Pirates to face the Chicago Cubs in Major League Baseball’s 2015 National League Wild Card game, tensions were running high. The division rivals, who hold the second and third-best records in baseball, respectively, were meeting in a win-or-go-home, single-game elimination format that the MLB adopted in 2012. The winner moves on to play the St. Louis Cardinals, another division nemesis, and the loser would see their playoff run and 2015 season end after just nine innings of play.

For most of the game, Cubs pitcher and Cy Young Award candidate Jake Arrieta was virtually unhittable, much as he had been for the latter portion of the regular season. By the seventh inning, Chicago had a 4-0 lead on Pittsburgh. Arrieta would come to the plate to bat in the top of the inning, and an awry pitch from Pirates reliever Tony Watson plunked the Cubs ace in the hip. Intentional or not, Arrieta took exception to the bean ball, and the teams’ benches cleared. After some light shoving and a few words exchanged, the gathering dissipated and the game resumed play.

The one casualty of the minor scuffle was Pittsburgh first baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was ejected for attempting to throw a punch at one of Chicago’s players. It was clear that Rodriguez would spend the rest of the night outside the confines of the field of play, but before he left the building, Rodriguez did something unexpected. Upon reaching the dugout, Rodriguez proceeded to take his frustration out on one of the team’s Gatorade coolers with a flurry of combination punches.

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(See video and more from the seventh inning antics here.)

The moment was caught on the game’s broadcast cameras and quickly went viral. What followed was a whirlwind of internet activity, including tweets and memes centered on the cooler’s well-being. The Gatorade brand turned into a trending topic on Twitter in a matter of hours. A Twitter account for the cooler was even created that had nearly 7,800 followers within 16 hours and currently sits at just north of 10,000 followers.

Sean Rodriguez’s outburst unintentionally got the world buzzing about Gatorade, earning the brand a free boost in publicity. Gatorade has notoriously earned this kind of exposure for decades, as the sports drink has become the center of a victory ritual across the world of sports. The Gatorade shower is universally recognized as a symbol for champions, as victorious head coaches and players are doused after winning Super Bowls, National Championships, or even Wild Card playoff games. As a result, Gatorade’s parent company, PepsiCo, has reaped the benefits of sports drink’s success and sits at 99th on the Forbes list of The World’s Biggest Public Companies as of May 2015, with a market cap of approximately $143 billion.

Gatorade showers have become predictable in high stakes sporting events, but moments like Rodriguez’s one-sided boxing match cannot be foreseen. As pointed out by PR Daily, brands involved in an internet craze aren’t always quick enough to take advantage of the free publicity. Gatorade’s social media team remained quiet on the topic, perhaps missing the marketing opportunity of engaging with users that were posting about the incident.

In the age of constant media exposure, situations like this aren’t entirely uncommon. Other companies have leveraged random marketing opportunities sports can present when their brand becomes involved in an unpredictable scenario. Earlier in the 2015 MLB season, the Washington Nationals began celebrating monumental wins by dumping Hershey’s chocolate syrup on the head of the team’s hero of the game. As the team’s newest tradition quickly gained exposure, Hershey’s took notice. Although Hershey’s and the Nationals have no official partnership, the chocolate makers capitalized on the opportunity for free exposure, shipping out 108 bottles of syrup to the team to ensure that they would have enough to last them through the season.

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In a similar scenario, Skittles was quick to jump on the opportunity to play off of the superstition of loyal Skittles-eater and Seattle Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch. As a child, Lynch’s mom would hand him the “power pellets” before youth football games to help his success on the field. The tradition followed Lynch into his professional football career. Seahawks fans toss Skittles onto the field following Lynch’s touchdowns, and even inspired a ‘Beast Burger’ served at Seahawks home games with a side of the multi-colored candy. The team’s overall success also worked in the candy brand’s favor. It was estimated by Kantar Media that the Seahawks participation in the 2014 Super Bowl was worth up to $5 million of free exposure for Skittles. Consequentially, Lynch became the first athlete to sign an endorsement deal with the company.

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The great thing about sports is that they are inherently unpredictable in nature, but the final score doesn’t tell the whole story. Things happen along the way that are televised and then publicized for the world to see by the millions of users of social media. And occasionally, brands find that they are in the middle of an unforeseen whirl of media attention that can be utilized for free exposure. If one of these golden opportunity strikes for your brand, be prepared to pounce.

Al L.

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