Head’s up, properties, there may be a new sponsor coming to town.

Under new ownership, Dunkin’ Brands Inc. and its flagship Dunkin’ Donuts chain are embarking on a national expansion that could bring with it a significant increase in sponsorship activity.

Although the company announced its aggressive growth plans only within the last month, new deals have already been signed that support its desire for a higher profile.

The chain previously described itself as “a national company with a very regional skew,” referring to its high concentration of stores in the Northeast. Its sponsorship portfolio is similarly skewed, with deals primarily in the New England/New York area plus a smattering of others in major markets.

But that situation is set to change. Dunkin’ Brands plans to triple the number of U.S. locations for Dunkin’ Donuts from 4,900 to 15,000 by 2020 and is scouting deals to build its presence in new markets, as well as adding larger, higher-profile properties in existing markets.

For example, the company will title this weekend’s Cape Cod Marathon, an event it previously cosponsored. It also signed a new partnership with next month’s ING New York City Marathon and inked a first-time deal with the PGA Tour’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass. this past summer.

“We’re increasingly using sponsorship to maintain a leadership position,” said Missy Maio, field marketing manager for Dunkin’ Donuts’ New York City metropolitan region. “We want to align with events that are both relevant to local markets and provide visibility on the national stage. That’s important as our brand continues to grow.”

The new direction comes on the heels of the company’s April sale by Pernod Ricard SA to three private equity firms for $2.43 billion. The sale included Dunkin’ Brands’ Baskin-Robbins ice cream and Togo’s sandwich chains.

The new ownership set a goal for Dunkin’ Donuts of taking market share from McDonald’s Corp., Starbucks Corp. and other competitors in the breakfast/coffee segment.

The task of using sponsorship to maintain dominant presence in existing markets and build brand awareness in new locations will be largely up to field marketing managers working in conjunction with franchisees, Maio said. “As the company grows, each manager will have to look at what works best for their region.”

That decision-making also will extend to activation. In general, leveraging in established markets will support specific menu items–especially coffee beverages, which account for nearly two-thirds of Dunkin’ Donuts’ sales–and product promotions, while new markets will focus on visibility and establishing roots in the community, Maio noted.

Among the geographic priorities going forward are the Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia markets. Over the next four years, the company plans to add 325 outlets in the D.C. area to its current 200 stores, and open 250 additional locations in the Philadelphia area.

Among the new markets Dunkin’ Donuts will enter are Charlotte and Nashville. The company also plans to expand its presence in Atlanta, Chicago, Florida and New York.

Field marketing managers review and sign off on most deals in their regions; Robert Rodriguez, who became Dunkin’ Donuts brand officer in June, approves large deals such as the ING New York City Marathon.

Sponsorships also emanate from franchisees. For example, earlier this year a franchisee signed title of the St. Lawrence County Half-Marathon in Canton, N.Y.

“It is very important for us to involve and promote our franchisees and individual stores,” Maio said. “We look at large opportunities and then funnel that down to have a relevant tie at the store level.”

The company also will support nonprofits through its newly created Dunkin’ Brands community foundation.

Multiple Touchpoints Key To NYC Marathon Activation
Dunkin’ Donuts has aligned with the New York City Marathon and other running events in part to play up its “America Runs on Dunkin’ ” ad campaign, which it launched shortly after its April acquisition.

In signing with the New York Road Runners Club for its marquee event, the chain sought a platform from which it could run multiple promotions, Maio said.

Iced coffee takes center stage in the activation efforts around the marathon and other events in the market, she noted. “We see iced coffee as an energy beverage, and it’s a focal point for many of our promotions.”

The company’s 1,200 New York City-area stores will give away small iced coffees for four hours during the race. It is touting the promo through p-o-s displays and radio and TV ads.

Dunkin’ Donuts will create eight “Chill” zones for spectators at stores along the marathon route, where attendees can sample iced coffee and receive bang sticks and other giveaways. It also will provide coffee, bagels and doughnuts at race-week events and distribute a free latte card in runners’ registration bags.

Additionally, the chain will distribute hats bearing its ad tagline to the race’s 12,000 volunteers and outfit a runner in a Dunkin’ Donuts cup costume.

Dunkin’ Donuts, which receives status as the marathon’s official breakfast and coffee retailer, also sponsors the NFL New York Giants and MLB New York Mets and Yankees.