Lime and salt are not the only things that go well with tequila: Brand marketers in the category have made it the most active spirits segment recently, outpacing new deals from their vodka, whiskey and other counterparts.

Fueled in large part by increased competition, tequila marketers have been partnering with pro sports teams, festivals, motorsports properties and other types of rightsholders.

For example, Familia Camarena Tequila recently signed new deals with the NBA Phoenix Suns, NFL Miami Dolphins and MLB Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox. The brand was introduced to U.S. markets in March by E&J Gallo Winery, which signed a distribution agreement with the Mexican producer.

Those ties follow several partnerships the brand signed earlier this year, including MLS club Chivas USA and the MLB Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and San Francisco Giants.

Meanwhile, 3 Amigos Tequila Inc. this month announced a new partnership with Phoenix Int’l Raceway, a tie that affords title of the season-ending NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Race on November 13, while The Patrón Spirits Co. earlier this year announced a presenting tie to the American Le Mans Series on behalf of its eponymous brand.

On the non-sports front, Santo Spirits, Inc.’s Ambhar Tequila presented last month’s Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin, Texas, and in one of the most groundbreaking deals in the category, Riazul Imports LLC’s Riazul Tequila came on board as a new sponsor of the October 4-5 cPanel Conference for the Web hosting industry.

While sales of tequila grew only 1.3 percent to 11.2 million cases in 2009, according to Beverage Information Group, a plethora of new premium and super-premium brands have entered the market, looking to gain a point of differentiation to grab the interest of consumers, retailers and distributors.

Sales Tips: Pitching Sponsorship To Tequila Brands
Below, IEG SR offers tips on closing deals with tequila and other spirits marketers.

Help promote new products. Tequila and other spirits brands frequently use sponsorship to generate buzz for new market entries. Most of the recent sponsorship activity has been on behalf of new brands.

Properties should visit www.bevnet.com and keep up with other specialized industry sources and trade publications to keep abreast of new product launches.

Know who to pitch. Sponsorships typically are funded by one of two sources: The companies that own the brands or their distributors. For example, Gallo is paying for Familia Camarena’s U.S. sponsorships.

Provide sampling opportunities. Tequila and spirits marketers look for the opportunity to serve their beverages to consumers of legal drinking age.

That was a key benefit of Tequila Ambhar’s Fantastic Fest sponsorship, along with placing its name on a theater and a celebrity tie-in in which actor Bill Pullman led a packed house in a tequila toast.

“Tequila Ambhar’s branded theater activation allowed Fantastic Fest attendees to sample product before one screening every night of the festival,” said Nicholas Jayanty, chief marketing officer for The Dark Agency, the marketing firm that brokered the deal.

Offer naming rights to 21-and-over spaces. Tequila brands have responded favorably to opportunities to title permanent or temporary bars, lounges and other spaces within events and venues.

For example, Patrón has partnered with a number of pro sports venues and teams over the past several years to brand arena clubs and lounges under the Patrón Platinum name. The company has created such spaces with the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers and NHL Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators, among other properties.

Start with local companies. Some tequila marketers sponsor hometown properties to play up their local ties.

For example, 3 Amigos is using sponsorship of Phoenix Int’l Raceway and the Fiesta Bowl organization in part to play up its roots as an Arizona brand, while Texas-based El Grado Spirits, Inc. does the same around its partnership with San Antonio’s Valero Alamo Bowl, a tie it signed last year on behalf of its eponymous tequila.