When Coca-Cola announced this week that it’s paying $5.6 billion to buy the 85% it doesn’t already own of sports drink maker BodyArmor, it marked a serious windfall for some famous investors, including NBA star James Harden and tennis phenom Naomi Osaka. The late Kobe Bryant’s estate is reportedly in line for a $400 million-plus payout.
But no one is cashing in more than Mike Repole, BodyArmor’s cofounder, chairman and largest shareholder. Forbes estimates that, thanks largely to this week’s deal, Repole has a net worth of at least $1.5 billion. Repole declined to comment on his fortune.
A serial sports drink entrepreneur, this isn’t the first time Repole, 52, has struck a lucrative deal with Coca-Cola. Born to a waiter and a seamstress, Repole grew up in Queens, New York and studied sports management at St. John’s University before becoming a salesman for a small company called Mistic Beverage. In the late 1990s he cofounded Glaceau—which makes the popular Vitaminwater and Smartwater brands. By 2007, the business reportedly employed 600 people and was doing about $400 million in annual revenue, thanks to key marketing deals with Jennifer Aniston and rapper 50 Cent. Repole sold it to Coca-Cola that year for $4.1 billion. The next year, he plowed some of his take into a majority stake in the maker of Pirate’s Booty, the white-cheddar cheese rice and corn puffs brand, which he later sold to B&G Foods for nearly $200 million. He also made an early investment in Kind, the snack bar maker, which was sold to candy conglomerate Mars last year at a reported $5 billion valuation.
BodyArmor was started in 2011, when Repole teamed up with Lance Collins, who had previously sold the Fuze Beverage and NOS Energy Drink brands to Coca-Cola. The Queens-based business has made a splash peddling electrolyte-rich drinks (essentially an alternative to Gatorade) to professional athletes and thirsty fans. Today, BodyArmor boasts a 400-person staff and $1.4 billion in retail sales, according to a Coca-Cola statement announcing the deal. The brand had nearly 8% of the U.S. sports drink market in 2020, according to industry data from Euromonitor.
From its start, BodyArmor attracted an impressive roster of investors. Repole deployed a similar playbook as with Glaceau, signing big names like Harden and Osaka in exchange for equity. His first big break came when Kobe Bryant discovered BodyArmor while rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon. The late basketball star paid $6 million for 10% of BodyArmor in 2013, making him the company’s fourth-largest shareholder, according to Fox Business. In 2015, Keurig Dr Pepper snapped up an 11.7% stake for $20 million, and shelled out another $6 million a year later to increase its ownership to 15.5%. Then, in 2018, Coca-Cola paid $300 million for a 15% share of the company, valuing it at $2 billion.
That deal likely netted Repole tens of millions of dollars from a cash dividend, but it also got him in trouble. Two years ago, the bottling subsidiary of Keurig Dr Pepper (then called Dr Pepper Snapple Group) sued Repole and BodyArmor for suddenly transferring distribution rights to Coca-Cola, alleging it violated a prior agreement. BodyArmor called the lawsuit meritless in a 2019 press release. The complaint was partially dismissed in December 2020.
Repole ran into trouble at Pirate’s Booty, too. The crunchy snack’s creator, Robert Ehrlich, sued Repole’s Driven Capital Management in 2015, alleging “frat boy” actions by Repole and associates in order to “attack [Ehrlich’s] self-confidence and entrepreneurial spirit.” In response, Repole told Forbes at the time: “These claims are so outlandish and ridiculous that I laughed out loud the first time I read them and they aren’t even worth addressing.” A spokesperson for Repole said the lawsuit is no longer ongoing; a lawyer for Ehrlich did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
This week’s deal marks Coca-Cola’s largest acquisition so far of another brand. It will bolster the beverage behemoth’s quest for a bigger share of the U.S. sports drink market, of which rival PepsiCo’s Gatorade commanded a 65% share in 2020, according to Euromonitor. (In 2006, PepsiCo paid $13.4 billion in stock and assumed debt to buy Quaker Oats and its Gatorade subsidiary.) Between BodyArmor and Powerade, which Coca-Cola released in 1988, Coca-Cola will control roughly 26% of the U.S. sports drink market, Euromonitor data shows.
What’s next for the newest beverage billionaire? Repole—an avid equestrian, who owns more than 200 thoroughbred race horses—will stay on as BodyArmor’s chairman, Coca-Cola said in a press release, and will collaborate on the company’s portfolio of still beverages. “Building brands and building teams are a lot of fun,” Repole told Forbes in 2014. “Gatorade has been the number one sports drink for 50 years, but in 10 years, I want BodyArmor to be the number one sports drink in the United States. In 15 years, I want BodyArmor to be the number one sports drink globally.”