What categories are expected to increase sponsorship activity in 2016? What companies should sponsorship sellers put at the top of their prospect list?

Below, IEG SR highlights eight categories that are expected to ramp up spending in the New Year and beyond.


Sparkling Water
Sales of bottled water are expected to overtake soda by 2024, with sparkling water leading the charge. Sales of sparkling/mineral water grew 58 percent from 2012 to 2014, exceeding jug/bulk water (7.6 percent) and convenience/PET still water (2.2 percent).

And a growing number of sparkling water brands are using sponsorship to reach new audiences. Perrier in 2015 partnered with FYF Fest (Los Angeles), III Points (Miami), Governors Ball (New York City) and other music festivals to drive trial and awareness among 25-to-40-year-old creatives.  

Curated content played a key role in the sponsorships. The Nestlẻ Waters brand activated the festivals by posting photos of fashion-forward attendees and other content on the Perrier Tumblr page.

Competition is expected to heat up as more players enter the category. The Coca-Cola. Co. has reportedly launched a carbonated version of Glacẻau Smartwater in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami in advance of a national rollout in 2016.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Gain sampling rights
  • Promote product functionality (mixed drinks, etc.)
  • Access content for social amplification


Craft Beer
Move over Budweiser and Miller Lite. Consumers’ growing taste for alternative brews is shaking up the beer category.

Craft beer volume sales have soared 81 percent since 2009, according to Mintel, a London-based market research firm. Craft brewers captured 11 percent share of the U.S. beer market in 2014—the first time volume has reached the double digits, according to the Brewers Assn., a trade group that represents small and independent brewers.

Volume share of “popular beer” (Budweiser, Miller, etc.) has slid 17 percent over the past six years, including a four percent decline in 2014 alone.

The popularity of craft beer has resulted in new sponsorship activity on behalf of small brewers as well as “mass craft beer” made by the giants. Recent deals include Lagunitas and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn. and Shock Top and the Warrior Dash obstacle course series. 

The growing popularity of craft beers has made a significant impact on the global beer landscape, namely industry consolidation. Anheuser-Busch InBev’s proposed acquisition of SABMiller could result in a significant pullback in spending by one of the sponsorship industry’s most active categories.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Build visibility
  • Gain on-site sales rights
  • Access sampling opportunities


With sales on the rise, whiskey, vodka and other distilled spirits are increasingly using sponsorship to drive preference and boost sales.

On the sports front, the MLB Pittsburgh Pirates over the past year has signed new deals with Jim Beam and Golia vodka.

“We’re expecting additional growth in this space via sponsorship of several branded concepts around PNC Park and are in active discussions with a number of brands,” said Aaron Cohn, the Pirates’ senior director of corporate sales.

One area of focus: digital content. Southern Comfort in 2015 partnered with the Funny or Die website as a strategic partner in seeding “ShottaSoCo,” a made-up phrase designed to build awareness and drive sales of the American liqueur. 

The Brown-Forman Corp. brand also promoted the phrase through sponsorship of the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival presented by Funny or Die.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Promote brands as lifestyle products
  • Access one-of-a-kind experiences
  • Gain promotional platforms for on- and off-premise accounts
  • Promote new line extensions
  • Access digital content
  • Secure on-site sales rights
  • Promote responsible drinking message


Hard Cider
Fueled by a 70 percent increase in dollar sales, cider makers are increasingly using sponsorship to build their brands, sample product and access platforms for on- and off-premise promotions.  

Angry Orchard—the category’s largest player—this fall extended its sponsorship of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with presenting status of Bonnaroo Spotlight, a five-city concert series. Each concert featured a variety of Angry Orchard hard cider styles as well as Angry Balls—a mix of Angry Orchard Crisp Apple and Fireball Whiskey.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Support brand positioning
  • Gain sampling rights
  • Access platforms for on- and off-site promotions
  • Promote product heritage
  • Educate consumers about the cider-making process


Kitchen and Bath Products
While it may not be the most exciting category, manufacturers of kitchen and bath products are increasingly using sponsorship to showcase products and reach new audiences.

Recent deals include The Kohler Co. and Bonnaroo and Delta Faucet and Warrior Dash.  

Product integration plays a key role in both deals. Delta activated Warrior Dash with shower stations equipped with Delta H20kinetic showerheads, while Kohler installed Kohler Moxie—a showerhead equipped with a Bluetooth-enabled wireless speaker—at Bonnaroo shower locations.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Demonstrate product functionality
  • Promote product attributes
  • Drive social media conversations


While craft beer, spirits and hard cider may be all the rage, sponsorship sellers can’t overlook another active segment of the alcohol category: wine.

Wine makers large and small are signing new deals with sports venues, music festivals and other types of properties to build preference among millennials.

Recent ties include E. & J. Gallo and Minor League Baseball (Barefoot wine); Casillero del Diablo and the NHL New Jersey Devils, and Jamieson Ranch Vineyards and Outside Lands, Kaaboo and other music festivals.

Jamieson Ranch used the sponsorships to support “Taste the Moment,” a new marketing campaign and the theme of the vineyard’s redesigned web site. The wine maker promoted the tour on JRVTastetheMusic.com, a site that featured curated content from the festivals, a ticket sweeps and a directory of local retailers.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Promote brand positioning
  • Gain pouring/sampling rights
  • Access platforms for on- and off-premise promotions


Peer-to-peer Marketplaces
Airbnb, Uber and other peer-to-peer marketplaces continue to expand their sponsorship portfolios as a platform to build preference and drive sales. Recent deals include Airbnb and the Pitchfork Music Festival, Homeaway and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and Uber and Live Nation.

Demonstrating the category’s growing presence on the sponsorship scene, Uber in 2015 joined Anheuser-Busch, Brown-Forman and other Blue Chip companies on the list of the ten most active sponsors of music.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Build preference
  • Drive sales
  • Support brand positioning


Sluggish sales in the ground coffee category is driving new sponsorship activity across nearly every type of property. The primary reason: increased competition from single-serve coffee.

Deals in 2015 include Maxell House and Michael Waltrip Racing, Lavazza and the Boston Marathon and Starbucks and the Firefly music festival.

Sponsorship hot buttons:

  • Promote brand positioning
  • Gain sampling/sales rights
  • Tout product heritage