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Border Crossing: A Historic Day for the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour

By:  Brad Ross Nov 25, 2013
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Brad Ross

Brad Ross on the roof of the National Bottling Company (NBC), the Coca-Cola bottler in Palestine. View a full-screen photo gallery.

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola made history by bringing the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour to Israel and Palestine in a single day. Here’s how.

When we set out on our journey to make the 2014 FIFA World Cup the most inclusive and participatory ever, we knew it was a massive ambition that would require walking the talk. The FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, by virtue of its ability to connect with people, was always going to be a massive proof point for us to make this the “World’s Cup.”

When looking at the journey ahead of us, and the possible route we could take around the world, we were presented with a few options that would ultimately show our intent behind this campaign and, in so doing, our belief and resolve to bring the trophy to as many people around the world as possible.

Israel and Palestine presented us with that opportunity to really put our ambition to the test and to show that we truly believed that this is the “World’s cup.” Obviously, this was not going to be easy. We needed commitment and buy-in from both countries, as well as from Coke’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Business Unit and Eurasia & Africa Group. It was here that I truly understood how connected we were as a system and how we all hold the same ambition. Working closely with the aforementioned groups, it became clear that we all embrace the same set of core values and recognized the massive opportunity taking the trophy to both countries presented.

Once we aligned on the opportunity, our focus quickly shifted to how we could deliver equally amazing experiences in two neighboring countries divided by decades of conflict. Logistically, we had our work cut out for us; we knew we had to be on top of our game to pull off a smooth and seamless activation in November. Working together with Coke’s strategic security team and our local teams in Israel and Palestine, we pulled together a plan. Since Israel controls all borders, we knew we had to work with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to get in and out of Palestine, and that would require the highest level of collaboration and trust with our teams on the ground. That was one challenge.

View a full-screen photo gallery.

Another was getting to Israel in time for an 8 a.m. press conference on the morning of Nov. 10. Our preceding tour stop, Belize, was literally on the other side of the ocean and given our plane’s six-hour-range fuel tanks, we needed to make sure we could make the crossing in time. Two other considerations to bear in mind were: 1) That we were stopping in Zurich to pick up guests from FIFA; and 2) That we had to leave from a pre-cleared airport before arriving in Tel Aviv.  The trip into Tel Aviv sounded more like a précis of around the world in 80 days where we used the following flight plan: Belize-Canada-Iceland-Denmark-Switzerland-Cyprus and, finally, Israel. We had to add an overnight stay in Cyprus since the noise ordinances at the Zurich airport would have prohibited an early flight out to make it on time for the press conference in Israel. Needless to say, we were exhausted but tremendously excited by the few days ahead of us.

The team in Israel enthusiastically welcomed the trophy to their country for the first time ever with a world-class arrival ceremony at the airport and consumer and employee experience at the local CBC Bottling Plant. From senior government leaders, to Israeli footballers who played in the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico (the only time Israel has made it to the FIFA World Cup) to families and employees, the passion and engagement were palpable.

After a fantastic day in Tel Aviv, the big moment of the border crossing awaited us. Our charter plane had subsequently left Tel Aviv and flown to Amman, Jordan, where part of the team was getting set up for the fan experience in Jordan. The remainder of our team boarded a bus to the border crossing point.

That moment felt a little surreal, knowing the copious amount of time that all the teams involved had spent on making sure this crossing was safe and seamless for all involved. The teams were notably anxious as we pulled into the hanger, where we made the switch over between the Israeli vehicles and the Palestinian vehicles, under close escort and protection from the ground teams. As we drove through the hanger into Palestinian territory, I felt a huge sigh of relief that the plan had worked and that we were in the process of making history.

Upon arrival in Palestine, we were greeted by the NBC bottler at their newly-erected building which is impressive, to say the least. A press conference, which attracted an impressive media turnout, then followed. We spent the night in Palestine and the following morning surprised the Palestinian Women’s Football team with the trophy, followed by a well-organized fan experience at NBC for employees, consumers, universities and schools.

At Coke, we talk a lot about what it means to drive cultural leadership, and I can’t think of a better example than the experience we delivered in Israel and Palestine. The fact that we brought the trophy to both countries in a single day is a massive coup. We could have omitted these two countries from the route to make our lives easier, but we didn’t. We stayed true to the spirit of our “World’s Cup” campaign. It was clear to me that what unites us is greater than what divides us, and it was wonderful to be part of this experience.

Our extended team had been preparing for this milestone for many months – the logistics, security and operational planning behind this were truly all-consuming – so it was incredibly rewarding to put our ambition into action. In that moment of crossing the border, it became evident that boundaries should never stop us from what we truly believe in and that when we collaborate and focus on the bigger picture, we can really achieve anything.

As we started the journey into Jordan where we were meeting up with our advance team on the ground, I was overcome with a feeling of pride to be working for Coca-Cola, our partners at FIFA, and our incredible Trophy Tour team. This will be a moment, on both a personal and professional level, that I won’t soon forget.

Brad Ross is global football manager and FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour project lead for The Coca-Cola Company.