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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

BodyArmor is making noise in the sports drink market, announcing seven new athlete partnerships last week, including Christian McCaffrey, Sabrina Ionescu and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Why it matters: It wants to market itself as a worthy challenger to the throne that Gatorade has occupied for nearly six decades.

  • "This is either going to go bankrupt in five years or going to be the No. 1 sports drink by 2025," CEO Mike Repole told CNBC.
  • Reality check: Repole's goal isn't out of the question, but BodyArmor faces a steep climb. Gatorade holds 72% of the sports drink market, while Powerade is at 20% and BodyArmor is at 7%. Gatorade brings in over $7 billion annually, while BodyArmor is on track to eclipse $1 billion for the first time this year.

BodyArmor vs. Gatorade:

  • Founding story: Gatorade was created in 1965 by scientists at the University of Florida upon request from football coach Ray Graves. BodyArmor was launched in 2011 by Repole, who previously co-founded Glacéau (SmartWater, VitaminWater).
  • Parent company: Gatorade is owned by PepsiCo, while rival Coca-Cola (which also owns Powerade) bought a minority stake in BodyArmor in 2018.
  • Products: Gatorade offers a wide variety of products including Original, G2, Bolt 24 and various bars, chews, gels and powders. BodyArmor has three products: Sports Drink, Lyte Sports Drink and SportWater.
  • Social following: Gatorade has 1.5 million followers across Twitter and Instagram. BodyArmor has 340,000.

The state of play: Gatorade's standing as the old guard is evident in its approach, while BodyArmor was clearly born in the 2010s, with an innate understanding of modern tactics and health trends.

  • Marketing: Gatorade leans fully into its role as a "point of sweat" companion, filling its Instagram feed with home workouts. BodyArmor's page feels a bit more organically 2020, leaning into audience engagement.
  • Product innovation: Gatorade was groundbreaking in 1965, but it has adjusted to changing health trends over the years, as people realized electrolytes shouldn't be surrounded by all that sugar. BodyArmor was geared toward the health-conscious consumer from the jump, with a core product containing antioxidants and coconut water.

The big picture: Despite being a popular non-performance drink, Brett O'Brien, Gatorade's SVP and GM, says the company exists to serve athletes. "Our focus is not even primarily on athletes — it's 100%," he tells me.

  • Yes, but: If Gatorade was built for athletes, then BodyArmor was built by them.
  • In 2013, Kobe Bryant invested $5 million for a 10% stake in the company (now worth $200+ million). Since then, Mike Trout, James Harden, Skylar Diggins-Smith and others have joined as investor-endorsers.

Between the lines: Looking at each company's roster of athletes and overall marketing strategy shows the divide between champion and challenger.

  • Gatorade boasts legends like Michael Jordan and Serena Williams, to say nothing of its status as the official drink of the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB and NHL.
  • BodyArmor relies on younger, fresher talent like Trae Young and Naomi Osaka, while partnering with smaller, up-and-coming leagues like MLS and the UFC. (Gatorade does also have young stars like Bryce Harper and Zion Williamson — they haven't entirely eschewed that generation.)

The bottom line: Repole's all-or-nothing, five-year projection might feel extreme, but the task at hand is tall enough to warrant a tinge of brashness. Call it the Mamba Mentality.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Derek Jeter as a Gatorade athlete.

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