Historically one of the sponsorship industry’s most active categories, wireless service providers are doubling down on sponsorship to offset new sources of competition and support their evolving business models.

That competition is driven in part by cable companies, a growing number of which are encroaching on the wireless industry’s turf. Comcast in 2017 launched Xfinity Mobile in a handful of markets, while Charter Communications and other cable companies are expected to launch their own wireless products in 2018.

At the same time, wireless companies are increasingly taking on Big Cable. T-Mobile this year plans to launch its own television service following its 2017 acquisition of Layer3 TV.

Telecommunications companies are also using sponsorship to support their transformation from wireless services companies to digital media companies. Verizon in 2017 combined its Yahoo assets with its AOL assets to create Oath, a digital content company, while AT&T plans to expand its content offering through its long-awaited merger with Time Warner.

Below, a breakdown of sponsorship spending, top deals and portfolio activity at the four largest U.S. wireless services companies.

Twenty-five percent of properties with a sponsor in the wireless telecommunications category report AT&T as a sponsor.


AT&T Inc.

Estimated 2016 Sponsorship Spend: $195M-$200M
Estimated 2015 Spend: $200M-$205M
Estimated 2014 Spend: $185M-$190M

Top Properties In Terms of Spending

  • National Collegiate Athletic Association
  • College Football Playoff Series
  • College Football Playoff National Championship (Presenting)

Where AT&T Spends Money
Where AT&T Spends Money

Non-sports properties, content and mobile-first fan experiences are playing a larger role in AT&T’s sponsorship’s strategy.

Looking to offset competition from streaming video services and other competitors, AT&T is increasingly using sponsorship to access content and promote its expanding product offering, including its DirecTV Now streaming television service.

And non-sports properties are playing a key role in the strategy.

AT&T activated its presenting sponsorship of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival with AT&T Presents: Untold Stories, a program that gives diverse filmmakers the chance to create and distribute his or her film. The program awards $1 million to one winning filmmaker and distribution on AT&T video platforms, including DirecTV Now.

“As shown by our work with AT&T Presents: Untold Stories, our future sponsorships will go well beyond traditional sports. All sponsorship options for AT&T need to be mobile-first, video content-driven. We want to drive eyeballs to AT&T and, ultimately, get folks to choose AT&T,” said Mark Wright, AT&T vice president of media & sponsorships.

While AT&T dropped its decades-long partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2017 (a sponsorship now held by Comcast), the telecom has not completely moved away from sports.

AT&T signed a handful of new ties with sports teams and venues over the past year including the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United FC and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T. In addition, AT&T in 2017 renewed its partnership with Soccer United Marketing, a deal that includes Major League Soccer, U.S. Soccer and the U.S. and Mexican Men’s and Women’s National Teams.

AT&T is expected to use sponsorship to (further) monetize its digital audience following its long-awaiting merger with Time Warner.

Verizon Communications Inc.

Estimated 2016 Sponsorship Spend: $155M-$160M
Estimated 2015 Spend: $145M-$150M
Estimated 2014 Spend: $120M-$125M

Top Properties In Terms of Spending

  • National Basketball Association
  • National Football League
  • MetLife Stadium

Where Verizon Spends Money
Where Verizon Spends Money

Streaming media rights, audience aggregation and customer perks represent three key pillars in Verizon’s sponsorship strategy.

Verizon, which is building a digital advertising business to rival Facebook and Google following its 2017 acquisition of Yahoo (and prior to that, AOL), is using sponsorship to access content and drive viewership to its online content sites.

Case in point: The telecom gains the right to steam NFL games on Yahoo! Sports, its Go90 video streaming service and other digital media brands as part of its 2017 contract extension with the pro sports league.

Unlike its earlier deal with the NFL, the streaming rights are not exclusive, meaning people with other wireless service providers can access the content on Verizon-owned apps and content sites via their mobile phones, thus helping Verizon build audience among both customers and non-customers.

Media rights also play a key role in Verizon’s recent contract extension with the NBA. The deal includes the right to distribute live games on NBA League Pass across Yahoo! Sports and other Oath properties.

Users must subscribe to the League Pass service to watch the games on Yahoo! Sports, although Verizon is offering registered users the opportunity to watch up to eight games for free.

In addition to securing content, Verizon also is using sponsorship to support its Verizon Up customer loyalty program.

The telecom is leveraging its involvement in music (Lady Gaga) and sports to access tickets, backstage passes and other experiences for the rewards program.

The strategy also trickles down to team deals: Verizon looks to access experiences (access to training facilities, etc.) and other perks as part of contract extensions with NFL teams.

Verizon reportedly plans to drop title of the Verizon IndyCar Series when its five-year contract expires in 2018. The telco will remain in the sport via its partnership with Team Penske.

Sprint Corp.

Estimated 2016 Sponsorship Spend: $55M-$60M
Estimated 2015 Spend: $70M-$75M
Estimated 2014 Spend: $75M-$80M

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Sprint Center, Kansas City
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Kansas City Royals

Where Sprint Spends Money
Where Sprint Spends Money

The country’s third-largest wireless services provider has significantly reduced its sponsorship portfolio in favor of four primary deals, three of which are located near its Overland Park, Kansas headquarters: the Kansas City Chiefs, the Kansas City Royals and the Sprint Center.

Sprint’s fourth sponsorship is with Prince Royce, an award-winning singer-songwriter who recorded his first demo while working at a Sprint retail store.

Sprint uses Royce to support its Sprint Rewards customer loyalty program. Customers can use points to purchase autographed pictures, concert merchandise and other items. Customers earn points by making referrals, connecting with Sprint on social media and other online activities.

Sprint in late 2017 partnered with Royce to launch the Dreams Academy, an initiative that provides aspiring artists and innovators with resources (contests, grants, internships, etc.) to help guide their journey. Sprint supported the initiative with a music contest that awarded $10,000 and a one-on-one mentorship session with Royce.

Sprint spearheads and funds local sponsorships out of 19 regional offices. Local ties include the Florida Film Festival and Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo.

Sprint also sponsors on behalf of its Boost Mobile and Virgin Wireless subsidiaries. Boost Mobile in late 2017 announced a new agreement with the ELeague, while Virgin Mobile partners with music festivals, motorsports races and other properties to create one-of-a-kind experiences for members of its “Inner Circle” service plan.


Estimated 2016 Sponsorship Spend: $50M-$55M
Estimated 2015 Spend: $50M-$55M
Estimated 2014 Spend: $40M-$45M

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Major League Baseball
  • T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Where T-Mobile Spends Money
Where T-Mobile Spends Money

The U.S. subsidiary of Germany-based Deutsche Telekom expanded its sponsorship portfolio over the past year with title of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and an increased involvement in esports (TSM, Cloud9, League of Legends World Championship, etc.).

T-Mobile uses the partnerships, as well as its six-year-old sponsorship of Major League Baseball, to promote its “uncarrier” brand positioning and reward customers and employees.

The telecom activates T-Mobile Arena by offering customers the opportunity to buy tickets before the general public, fast-track access into the building and seat upgrades via its T-Mobile Tuesday customer rewards program.

T-Mobile and Major League Baseball: Sponsorship Highlights

  • 2018 represents T-Mobile’s sixth season as the official wireless sponsor of MLB
  • T-Mobile has titled the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on ESPN over the past three years
  • T-Mobile sponsored the Derby Bracket Challenge on MLB.com, which asked fans to predict the results of the T-Mobile Home Run Derby
  • T-Mobile largest activations occur during All-Star Week and the World Series. During the 2017 postseason, T-Mobile created a platform called #HR4HR, around which the company made a donation to hurricane relief for every home run and every tweet with the hashtag.
  • T-Mobile offers customers the chance to win baseball-themed prizes including a free one-year subscription of MLB.TV Premium.
  • T-Mobile supported its league sponsorship via partnerships with nine MLB clubs in the 2017 season