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Red Bull Steals Rondo

Vitaminwater has Kobe Bryant and Gatorade has Kevin Garnett, but neither of the sports drink forces owned by Coca-Cola and Pepsi , respectively, was able to sign one of the hottest names coming into the Finals.

Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics
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Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics

That man is Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.

The brand? Red Bull, the energy drink leader that has thus far been the most effective sponsor in sports over the last six months. A non-Olympic sponsor, they generated more press than any official partner in and out of Vancouver through their endorsing of Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White.

They signed Jimmy Rollins last year and the Phillies made it back to the World Series. They signed Reggie Bush and the Saints won the Super Bowl. Now, it’s Rondo, who the brand signed last April when he wasn’t on the radar of any marketing executive.

“He wasn’t even an All-Star at the time, but they identified him as a guy who would be good for their local and regional marketing,” said Bill Sanders, chief marketing officer for BDA Sports, which counts Rondo as a client. “Given how big he has become, they’re definitely thinking of doing more now.”

Red Bull’s marketing staff never talks about future plans and never talks on the record –- it’s part of their stealth attitude -– but one company insider told us “Red Bull looks for rising stars who have potential for greatness and Rondo met that criteria. He’s now fulfilling that potential that Red Bull saw in him.”

Rondo did something locally with Dunkin’ Donuts, but Red Bull could be the first to capitalize nationally off the point guard since they’ve proven to be fairly nimble when it comes to ideas. Last year, Red Bull had him arrive at a playoff game in Red Bull’s stock car.

Two years ago, Rondo was signed away by Nike from Reebok, but even Nike wasn’t necessarily prepared for the star that Rondo would become. His version of the Nike Zoom Sharkalaid shoes aren’t even available on a limited edition basis.

There’s no question that his popularity is on the rise. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated last week and his Facebook fan page has nearly 200,000 followers.

According to Sportsgrid.com, Rondo is now the ninth most powerful player in the NBA, ahead of teammate Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh and Kevin Durant (a Gatorade endorser).

Red Bull’s signing of Rondo, along with Bush and Rollins, proves to the other drink manufacturers that they will be a force in sports marketing outside of the action sports area, where they’ve typically spent their endorsement marketing dollars.

There’s no question they have the money to play with the big boys. In 2009, Red Bull sold 1.3 billion cans in the United States alone and global sales of $4.67 billion.

According to Beverage Spectrum, Red Bull has been so hot over the last year, it has outsold Coors Light.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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