There is no better time than now to be scouting sponsorship opportunities in emerging and/or nontraditional categories.

From dating apps to virtual reality headsets, technological innovation, industry disruption and changing consumer preferences are creating new sponsorship opportunities like never before.

Below, IEG SR highlights twelve categories that have ramped up sponsorship activity in 2016 and represent solid prospects for the coming year. While they all vary in terms of number of players, marketing budgets and types of sponsorship, they are share one common trait: increased spending.

Airports
Airports around the world are increasingly using sponsorship to build their reputation in the local community, gain a point of differentiation, and, perhaps most importantly, prevent passenger leakage to other airports.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport uses partnerships with the Cincinnati Reds, Flying Pig Marathon and other properties to gain a point of differentiation from airports in Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, Lexington and Louisville, all of which are under two hours away.

Like other airports, CVG often activates with airline partners. The airport activated the Bunbury Music Festival with Allegiant Air, which raffled off a round-trip ticket voucher on each day of the three-day fest.

Hot Buttons:

  • Gain positioning as gateway of choice
  • Promote airline partners
  • Demonstrate community positioning
  • Enhance the travel experience

Cannabis
With voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada approving ballot measures last month to legalize recreational marijuana, cannabis companies are increasingly using sponsorship to promote their products and mainstream cannabis culture.

One particularly active sector: cannabis-related media companies.

Recent deals include Kind and the Life is Beautiful music festival in Las Vegas; Leafly and the Northern Lights music festival in Northern California; and Weedmaps and the Music Tastes Good food and music experience in Long Beach, Calif.

Weedmaps also sponsors several e-sports tournaments including last month’s Smash Summit 3.

Other segments of the cannabis category include dispensaries, cultivators, real estate companies and delivery services.

 Hot Buttons:

  • Build credibility
  • Educate consumers about the medicinal effects of cannabis
  • Demonstrate community involvement
  • Mainstream cannabis culture

Dating Apps
Singles yearning for love aren’t the only ones finding success with mobile dating apps.

Music festivals, running events and other properties are increasingly finding a match with online dating sites and mobile dating apps.

Spritzr this year has partnered with three properties in California: the Zappos.com Bay to Breakers footrace in San Francisco; Bottlerock music festival in Napa Valley; and Abbott Kinney Festival in Los Angeles.

The sponsorships build on a handful of current and former deals in the category including Bumble and the Austin City Limits Music Festival; Tinder and Urban Mudder; and Match.com and Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

Hot Buttons:

  • Engage singles around shared interests
  • Demonstrate product in action
  • Access content for social activations

Diagnostic Testing Services
Companies that market diagnostic testing services are increasingly using sponsorship to promote their products in a one-on-one environment.

The products are used to measure health markers ranging from fueling and hydration to food sensitivity and recovery.  

Case in point: Quest Diagnostics has sponsored the WNBA New York Liberty, Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon and other properties on behalf of Blueprint for Athletes, the company’s first product designed specifically for athletes.

Quest this year also signed a new partnership with Seattle Sounders FC, around which it has incorporated Blueprint for Athletes into the team’s training regime.

“Through our relationship with Seattle Sounders FC we’re able to arm the coaching and training staff and players with a unique understanding of how players adapt to training and competition,” said Richard Schwabacher, MPH, executive director, Quest Diagnostics Sports and Human Performance, in a statement.

Other deals in the category include Athletigen and Baylor University athletics and Orig3n and the San Francisco 49ers, Zappos.com Bay to Breakers, Sunfest music festival and other properties.

Hot Buttons:

  • Advance health awareness
  • Promote importance of clinical testing
  • Build credibility
  • Promote fee-based products

Direct-to-consumer Mattresses
Companies ranging from Casper to Leesa are upping pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers by selling mattresses directly to consumers. The companies offer competitive pricing, free shipping and generous return policies, all of which are designed to appeal to millennial consumers.

And at least two companies are using sponsorship to promote their wares, with more expected to follow.

Casper this year sponsored the Casper Podcast Lounge at New York City’s Vulture Festival, while Leesa last month announced a multiyear partnership with the Washington Redskins—arguably the largest deal in the nascent category.

Hot Buttons:

  • Engage millennials
  • Gain demonstration opportunities
  • Access social media influencers

Disposable Diapers
Disposable diapers are cleaning up with sponsorship.

Huggies this year has signed multiyear partnerships with the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers to drive awareness of diaper need. The Kimberly-Clark brand is supporting the initiative with diaper drives with the two teams—as well as an existing partnership with the Miami Dolphins—and their retail partners.

The San Francisco 49ers partnership includes presenting status of three key assets: the 49ers Crib Club (official fan club for 49ers Faithful Fans under the age of three), the 49ers Family Lounge (daycare facility for player and coaches’ families) and 49ers breastfeeding stations.

Another segment of the market to consider: adult diapers.

Fueled by an aging population, urbanization and increased awareness of treatment methods for urinary incontinence, the global adult diaper market is expected to grow at a 7.5 percent compound annual growth rate between 2016 and 2021, according to Zion Market Research.

The Asia-Pacific region is expected to experience the largest growth owing to a shift in lifestyle and rising population, according to the research firm.

Hot Buttons:

  • Drive awareness of diaper need
  • Gain platforms for retail promotions
  • Engage athletes and other stakeholders

Financial Technology
With billions of dollars pouring into their coffers, financial technology companies are increasingly using sponsorship to build their brands, engage employees and demonstrate their technology in action.

The category includes both established and upstart companies, all united by the common goal of using technology to disrupt how consumers and businesses store, save, borrow, invest, move, spend and protect money.

Categories include electronic payment (Paypal, Square, etc.), personal finance (Betterment, Credit Karma, etc.), lending (Lending Club, etc.), trading (TruMid Financial, MarketAxess, etc.), health insurance (Oscar Health) and money transfer (Circle, TransferWise, etc.).

Sponsors in the category include National Funding, which recently reupped title of San Diego’s Holiday Bowl for a second year, and Guaranteed Rate, which replaced U.S. Cellular as title sponsor of the Chicago White Sox’s home venue.

Hot Buttons:

  • Build name recognition
  • Engage employees/prospective employees
  • Demonstrate community involvement
  • Demonstrate technology
  • Engage customers/prospects

Personal Safety Devices
Sponsorship in the wearable technology category continues to heat up.

Personal safety devices are joining fitness trackers and other wearable products using sponsorship to engage consumers and demonstrate their products in a one-on-one environment.

Case in point: Wearsafe Labs is sponsoring endurance sports, minor league baseball and college athletics to promote its wearable safety tag, with additional partnerships on the way.

Wearsafe positions its product as the only wearable device on the market that instantly sends preselected contacts two pieces of information: the wearer’s precise GPS location and a live audio stream from the wearer’s location that plays sounds recorded up to 60 seconds before the button is pressed.

The company targets two audiences: college students who may be prone to sexual assault, and endurance sports athletes who participate in solitary activities.

Other brands in the personal safety category include Revolar, Occly, Siren, Stiletto and Athena.

Hot Buttons:

  • Demonstrate product functionality
  • Reach targeted audiences (runners, college students, etc.)
  • Engage B2B stakeholders

Real Estate Portals
Real estate portals are using sponsorship to engage home buyers and sellers as the housing market continues to heat up.

Realtor.com supported the summer release of Universal Pictures’ The Secret Life of Pets and last month wrapped a partnership with the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival presented by Funny or Die.

In addition, Realtor.com is in the early stages of launching a new multiyear partnership with the Golden State Warriors as the team plans its move to San Francisco in 2019.

The web site activated the Oddball comedy festival with short-form digital content during intermission, a sweepstakes that dangled “Prime Real Estate Seats” in the first 20 rows of each venue, co-branded Snapchat geofilters and backstage interviews on Facebook Live.

Hot Buttons:

  • Build preference
  • Drive usage
  • Access content for digital promotions
  • Acquire prospect database
  • Gain point of differentiation

Smart Homes
The growing ubiquity of The Internet of Things is driving new sponsorship activity on behalf of companies and products in the smart home ecosphere.

Nearly 20 percent of U.S. households with broadband connectivity had at least one smart home product at the end of 2015, according to Parks Associates. The research firm expects that number to grow to 66 percent by 2025.

The category includes multiple segments including integrated solutions providers, security systems, lightning, appliances and climate control.

Deals include Vivint Smart Home Arena (home to the Utah Jazz) and Philips Hue and Live Nation.

Hot Buttons:

  • Demonstrate product functionality
  • Reach tech-savvy males
  • Engage channel partners
  • Access content for digital promotions
  • Engage social media influencers

Streaming TV Services
This month’s launch of DirecTV Now is driving increased competition in the streaming TV category, and that’s good for the sponsorship industry.

DirecTV this summer sponsored New York Comic Con to build buzz around the new streaming service, with more deals expected to follow.

DirecTV Now is targeted at the more than 20 million U.S.  households without traditional pay TV—an audience that may soon benefit from better pricing and packaging as a result of AT&T’s planned acquisition of Time Warner.

DirecTV activated NYCC via presenting sponsorship of NYCC XP, a digital engagement platform that gave attendees the opportunity to win prizes and store photos on their own personalized web site.

Attendees who tapped their RFID-equipped badge at eight towers could win a range of prizes including a trip for two to NYCC 2017, front row seats at panel discussions and other prizes. Attendees who interacted with the towers were automatically entered into a database for follow-up marketing.

Hot Buttons:

  • Engage millennials
  • Promote programming
  • Build prospect database  

Virtual Reality
The growing popularity of virtual reality is driving new sponsorships across the sports and entertainment landscape.

Recent deals include Samsung and Six Flags and Laduma and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Both partnerships give consumers new ways to experience their favorite activities. Samsung is leveraging Six Flags with the world’s first virtual reality roller coaster, while Laduma is activating the LA Galaxy with 360-degree 3D VR experiences that give fans new ways to engage players.

Sponsorship is expected to pick up more steam as VR continues to gain traction. VR shipments are expected to create a $2.8 billion hardware market by 2020, up from an estimated $37 million this year, according to BI Intelligence.

Hot Buttons:

  • Demonstrate product functionality
  • Access content for VR experiences
  • Engage sales channels