A double-digit increase in sales volume could prompt new sponsorship activity on behalf of ready-to-drink tea brands.

RTD tea volume grew 12.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., making it the fastest growing segment of the non-alcoholic beverage category. RTD teas outpaced sports drinks (9.4 percent), ready-to-drink coffee (8.1 percent); energy drinks (5.4 percent); bottled water (3.5 percent) and other segments.

The first quarter of 2011 has already seen activity from the category, highlighted by the Pepsi Lipton Tea partnership (a joint venture between PepsiCo, Inc. and Unilever) teaming with rap superstar Eminem for a Super Bowl spot for Lipton Brisk and other projects.

Pepsi Lipton Tea also has signed LPGA great Annika Sorenstam to promote the full line of Lipton RTD iced teas throughout the state of Florida. Her involvement will include in-market appearances and regional advertising for the portfolio of products.

Meanwhile, Sweet Leaf Tea Co. has signed a first-time sponsorship of the June 4-5 Free Press Summer Fest music festival in Houston.

Like other beverage categories, RTD tea brands largely use sponsorship to build visibility, connect with targeted audiences, and gain promotional platforms and on-site sales and sampling rights.

Those are the key sponsorship drivers for Sweet Leaf, which signed its first-ever sponsorship with the Austin City Limits Music Festival in its Texas hometown more than ten years ago.

“We want to get our tea into the hands of people that are having a fun, memorable experience,” said Charla Adams, brand marketing manager.

Sweet Leaf activates ACL, Chicago’s Lollapalooza music fest and other events through on-site sales and consumer engagement activities.

The company also activates with trade partners. For example, Sweet Leaf last year leveraged Lollapalooza with a ticket sweepstakes at Chicago-area Jewel-Osco stores.

Nestlé Waters North America Inc. owns 30 percent of Sweet Leaf Tea.