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Keith Sturdler: Organic Sports

I have grown to believe, perhaps incorrectly, that Gatorade is the most important elixir in the history of the planet. It makes you run faster, jump higher, lift more, and generally perform like an elite athlete. I’ve also grown to believe it can cure most human illnesses, something affirmed both by having two kids of my own and during a short period earlier in my life when I dated a med school pediatric resident, and on pretty much every call she told some parent to just give their kid Gatorade and let ‘em sleep. Which made me believe that being a doctor wasn’t all that hard, at least that part.

My kids also believe that Gatorade is heavy sent. They ask for it pretty much any time they walk by a cooler, whether or not they’ve broken a sweat. It tends to come in bottle sizes larger than their heads, which means the next stop is typically a bathroom. It is the drink that lets you “Be Like Mike” and comes in like 500 flavors, most with names that sound skateboarding nicknames or Arena League football teams. That’s a lot better than the neon lemon-lime we used to get as kids during soccer games, where you assumed it had to work because it tasted so bad. I’m pretty sure college students use it as a base for cocktails and a cure for their subsequent hangovers the next day. It is the undisputed heavy weight champion of sports drinks and drink for everything else.

And now, it’s organic.

Not all of it, but Gatorade, which is owned by Pepsi, will release G Organic, the first version of the sports drink that is certified Organic, meaning it will lack the long list of chemicals, dyes, and processed whatever that makes Gatorade, Gatorade. This new super-drink will have a short list of ingredients – led of course by water and sugar, the sad truth of pretty much all sports drinks. The goal of this product, at least from a business perspective, is to capitalize on the growing organic market, where lots of people with disposable income will pay more for something that infers it’s not made out of space age polymers, or from a cow that was harvested in a Petri dish.

There’s been plenty written about the overuse of sports drinks like Gatorade. Basically, unless you’re running a marathon or going through NFL mini-camp, you’re likely better off with just water. In fact, most of us never run out of sugar or electrolytes in the course of a Zumba class or little league practice. A similar refrain exists for organic products – that it’s simply a marketing ploy to make us feel like we’re eating healthy, at a considerable up-sell. It’s like wearing 100 SPF sunscreen. So maybe organic Gatorade makes perfect sense. It’s the logical hybrid of two things we only need because someone made us believe we do. That’s the beauty of Organic Gatorade – it checks two boxes.

Gatorade is, and always has been tied to sport, even as it’s captured a large share of the non-athletic beverage market. People drink Gatorade instead of, say, soda, which continues to lose market share in the US. But its overwhelming popularity is driven by the countless athletes who endorse the drink and the many leagues and conferences who feed it to their athletes on television, well documented by the ubiquity of those bright green coolers, used of course to dump over a coach’s head after a big win.

Gatorade is just one of the many products that has used sport to capture an immense buying pubic. Take the shoe industry, for example. Nike has used professional athletes to turn basketball shoes into everything from casual to formal wear. A lot of American kids have closets that look like Imelda Marcos. Or sports clothing, like Under Armour shirts, which apparently every kid has to wear during, before, and after every athletic activity. There’s clothing that’s more sporting-ish, like Yoga Pants and anything from Lululemon. I think they call it sporting inspired casual wear. So you can wear it to the gym, or to the movies, or class, or wherever. You can look and feel like an athlete all the time. And you can drink Gatorade while you’re at it, just in case you happen to break into a slight jog crossing the street.

As Gatorade, Under Armour, and bunch of other companies have taught us, if sports are selling, we are buying. Now do we need Organic Gatorade? Depends on your definition of need. And likely on your belief that Gatorade – natural, synthetic, or otherwise – is truly the nectar of the gods.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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