What trends should rightsholders be on the lookout for in 2013? How can they leverage those trends to secure new sponsors?

Two activation platforms that are growing in importance: customer rewards programs and employee engagement.

Below, IEG SR breaks down how companies are activating sponsorship to build relationships with employees and loyal customers.

Customer rewards programs. Reward programs popping up at restaurants and other retail establishments are creating new sponsorship opportunities for sports teams, music fests and other properties.

Restaurants join hotels, credit card companies and other categories using the programs to engage consumers and drive transactions.

And those companies are increasingly using sponsorship to secure new members and reward existing customers.

Case in point: Papa John’s Int’l, Inc. earlier this year leveraged its NFL partnership with a Super Bowl promotion that dangled a large one-topping pizza and a two-liter bottle of Pepsi MAX to members of the Papa Rewards program.

Consumers entered the program by collectively voting “heads” or “tails” on the coin toss at www.PapaJohns.com. The entrants picked the call correctly, with Papa Rewards members receiving a coupon for the free pizza and drink.

“No matter which team you are rooting for, everyone enrolled in Papa Rewards walks away a winner,” said John Schnatter, Papa John’s founder, chairman and CEO, in a statement. “It’s our way of celebrating the terrific NFL season and rewarding our loyal Papa Rewards customers.”

Some properties are finding success with their own rewards programs.

The University of Michigan athletic department this year secured Flagstar Bank as the presenting sponsor of its new H.A.I.L. student rewards program. The program—an acronym for “Honoring Attendance, Involvement and Loyalty”—awards points to students who attend UM games and events.

Students can redeem the points for team merchandise, season tickets, one-of-a-kind experiences and other items.

In a different twist, Chattanooga, Tenn.’s Riverbend Festival this year posted a 40 percent increase in sponsorship revenue as a result of its two-year-old consumer rewards program aimed at improving relations with local businesses.

The music festival launched Riverbend Rewards in 2010 to build relations with restaurants, hotels and other local merchants, some of which see a decline in business during the nine-day downtown event.

The free, year-long program offers discounts on hotel rooms and other perks from local merchants. Roughly twenty companies participated in the program in 2012, with each paying a low-five-figure rights fee.

Employee engagement programs. Although companies have long used marathons and other types of events to engage employees, many cut back on employee programs following the 2008-2009 economic collapse and subsequent fallout in the job market.

But companies are increasingly placing more focus on employees as the economy rebounds and hiring picks up.

Case in point: Liberty Mutual Insurance will use its new partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee to engage existing employees and recruit new employees.

The company plans to leverage the tie by hosting athletes at local offices, said Paul Alexander, Liberty Mutual’s senior vice president of communications.

In addition, Sun Life Financial uses its two-year-old partnership with the Canadian Football League to build relations with employees. The company activated last month’s Sun Life Grey Cup Fan March by hosting a party for more than 300 employees and their families during the Toronto event.

Sun Life distributed jerseys, tickets to the Grey Cup and other perks at the event, said Paul Joliat, Sun Life’s director of sponsorship.

On the music front, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc. leveraged the Riverbend Festival by enrolling employees in the Riverbend Rewards program. The company enrolled roughly 5,000 employees in the program this year.

Other Categories That Activate With Rewards Programs

Sponsor Program Property Activation
Auto Rental
Hertz Rent-A-Car Hertz Gold Plus Live Nation Members can purchase music through the Hertz Music Store
National Car Rental Emerald Club PGA of America Offers PGA professionals access to Emerald Club
Financial Services
JPMorgan Chase & Co. Ultimate Rewards Madison Square Garden Co. Members can redeem points for celebrity meet-and-greets, hockey clinics and other unique experiences
InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club Rewards PGA Tour Offers PGA Tour staff, members, caddies and media partners platinum status in Priority Club Rewards
Marriott Marriott Rewards NFL Offers experiences at the Super Bowl and other events