If I asked someone living in Japan to name a sports drink, they would most likely say either Aquarius or Pocari Sweat. These two well-known brands have been fighting to be the top choice for consumers for many years. In America, there is a similar rivalry: Powerade vs Gatorade. While they are both famous in the United States, the history behind them is not as widely known. Today we’ll be looking at the history of Gatorade and why it may be of interest to prospective students looking to study abroad in the United States.
Gatorade took its name from The University of Florida football team, the Gators. Alligators are native to Florida’s everglades and swampland, so they have been used as mascots for various businesses and teams throughout the state. The Florida Gators football team was established as early as 1906 and is part of a wider athletic program at the university. Athletic programs are popular both in The University of Florida and their fierce rival Florida State University, and the two have various competitions across multiple disciplines, including baseball, track and field, and basketball. The most anticipated and highly televised showdown is between the schools’ football teams every Thanksgiving. Whichever team wins gives the university students bragging rights over the other school for an entire year until the next game. Even students who don’t enjoy football get caught up in the rivalry!
This battle of the schools has existed for decades and has led student athletes to train hard, even in summer months. However, Florida is subtropical, and the summers are quite brutal with both high humidity and relentless sunshine (Florida is the “Sunshine State,” after all!). Assistant football coach Dewayne Douglas noticed how much the climate was affecting his players in the summer of 1965 and set out to solve the problem.
Douglas noticed that, while sweating in the heat, players would lose weight at a worrying pace during practice (10-15 lbs/ 4.5-7 kg). They also would not urinate enough to match the amount of water they were drinking. Douglas contacted University of Florida kidney disease specialist Robert Cade for help. Together the two determined that water alone wasn’t enough to keep a person hydrated and strong during intense physical exercise. Cade and his researchers did extensive studies on the football players during their summer practice and discovered that through their sweat they were severely depleting their natural levels of electrolytes–mostly sodium and potassium. Using this discovery, they devised a drink that would contain salt to replace their lost sodium and sugar to keep their blood sugar level healthy.
The first batch of this “Gator Aid” was so bad that no one could drink it! Only after Cade’s wife suggested adding lemon juice were the football players able to stomach the concoction. Even then it did not taste the best. The results they received made up for the bad taste. The next year the Gators obtained an impressive 8-2 winning streak that gained attention from competing football teams. Realizing they had something special, Douglas and Cade began to market and sell their new drink to the general public, with royalties paid to the university.
In 1983 the Quaker Oats Co. purchased the rights to Gatorade and, using its far superior marketing resources, brought the drink to national attention. Gatorade soon took more than 80 percent of the sports beverage market. Today, Gatorade can be found on the sidelines of over 70 colleges and various national sports leagues as their official sports drink. People no longer associate Gatorade with the Florida Gators, but with sports in general.
For the University of Florida, which benefits from royalties, the success of Gatorade has translated into more resources to support research projects in a wide variety of disciplines. Since 1973, Gatorade has brought in more than $100 million, turning the school into one of the top ten public research universities in the United States.
The story of Gatorade is interesting not only because of its humble beginnings, but because it shows the importance and benefit of universities around the world. The University of Florida is only one example among many, and we hope to see you in future editions of YGC Global Encounters to learn more about different universities!