Increased consumption and a proliferation of brands and products are behind new sponsorship activity in the vodka category.

Vodka sales grew 5.8 percent in 2010, making it the fastest-growing segment in the distilled spirits category, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., a research and consulting firm. Overall, sales of distilled spirits grew 2.1 percent.

Vodka’s growth is driven by two main factors: The popularity of white spirits among young drinking-age consumers and the burgeoning number of new brands and line extensions.

“We have seen a lot of innovation in the white goods category, particularly flavored vodkas,” said Gary Hemphill, BMC’s managing director. “Some people think the flavored vodka market has become saturated, but the overall category continues to chug along at a healthy pace.”

Recent deals in the category include initiatives from upstart brands. For example, Pure Spirits Worldwide Inc.’s Yes vodka recently announced a new partnership with the NBA Milwaukee Bucks; Kru Vodka sponsored the just-concluded Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn.; and Fifth Generation, Inc.’s Tito’s Handmade Vodka will sponsor Lollapalooza in Chicago, the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas and the Wanderlust series of multi-day music and yoga events.

Vodka sponsorships also are benefiting from growing openness on the part of adult-oriented properties to having a distilled spirits sponsor, where once they may have had some reluctance.

Case in point: The PGA Tour this year expanded its five-year-old tie with the Ketel One brand into a full-blown marketing partnership after gaining approval to do so from its board of directors. Ketel One now has rights to the PGA Tour logo, a benefit it did not previously receive.

“Traditionally, our board did not allow us to have official partnerships with distilled spirits due to the perception of the category,” said Rob Ohno, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of corporate marketing. “But as we have seen other spirits companies sign deals in pro sports, our board has recognized that it is acceptable to work with brands in the category as long as the partnership includes educating people to drink responsibly.”

In addition to Ketel One, the expanded partnership includes Nolet’s Finest Gins. Both brands are marketed by Diageo North America, Inc.

Below, tips on selling sponsorship to vodka brands:

Help promote new products. Spirits marketers frequently use sponsorship to promote and generate a buzz around new products.

For example, Diageo is using the PGA Tour to promote Nolet’s, a newer addition to its product portfolio. In addition, importer William Grant & Sons USA’s Stolichnaya vodka this year used its two-year-old sponsorship of the Tribeca Film Festival to promote a new apple-flavored line extension.

“When you go to a bar, there are 10 SKUs of vodka; consumers have more choice than ever and vodka brands have to work hard to cut through the noise to promote new flavors or base brands,” said Brandon Lowitz, the festival’s vice president of sponsorship development.

Grant pouring and sampling rights. Nearly every brand looks for sampling or pouring rights in conjunction with a sponsorship.

The big trend: brand lounges. For example, Yes vodka gains entitlement to the Yes Lounge as part of its new Bucks partnership. The lounge is open during NBA games, as well as concerts and other events that take place at the Bradley Center.

The Bucks kicked off the lounge last month at a Bon Jovi concert, said John Steinmiller, the team’s vice president of business operations.

As is required by law, Yes vodka has two discrete contracts in connection with the Bucks deal, Steinmiller noted. One is a sponsorship agreement with the team, while the other is with Levi Restaurants, which owns concession rights at the Bradley Center.

Ketel One activates its PGA Tour sponsorship with Club Ketel One events at a handful of tournaments. The on-site club features sampling activities set amid an upscale environment, Ohno said.

Ketel One also activates the PGA Tour with on-site mixing events to educate consumers about Ketel One cocktails. The brand also receives sampling and pouring rights at the PGA Tour’s TPC clubs.

Provide benefits for promotional programs. Spirits brands look for tickets, intellectual property rights and other assets that can be used to create promotions with retailers, restaurants and other on- and off-premise accounts.

For example, Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.’s Grey Goose vodka activates its five-year-old partnership with horse racing’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships with race-themed drinks and other types of promotions in host markets.

That promotional support often can be just as important as cash to a property, said Carter Carnegie, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. senior vice president. “It’s a great way to extend the footprint of your brand.”

Offer opportunities for key account hospitality. In addition to promotions, spirits brands also use sponsorship to entertain their most important trade customers.

For example, Diageo uses its PGA Tour partnership to host customers at golf outings at TPC clubs.

Deliver access to young drinking-age consumers. The growth in vodka consumption is largely driven by consumers in their 20s and early 30s, so properties should attract that market segment. “The growth engine is younger consumers,” said BMC’s Hemphill.

Whiskey and other dark spirits are typically consumed by a slightly older demographic, he added.

Know who to contact. National deals on behalf of vodka brands are typically spearheaded and funded out of the brand owner’s corporate offices or from the companies that own U.S. marketing rights.

Distributors also fund deals, but those partnerships are typically local in nature and in the four- and five-figure ranges.