SBJ/20090727/This Week's News

New sponsor SpongeTech soaks up signage

With signage featured on nine MLB outfield walls, and sponsorships of varying size and scope at all but two of the league’s 30 teams, most baseball fans are now familiar with the SpongeTech brand.

However, many still don’t know precisely what SpongeTech sells.

“Since we’re on a lot of walls, we’ve gotten calls from some people asking if we’re the company that makes the padding,” laughs Jack Schwartzberg, marketing director for SpongeTech, a New York City company that has been around for 10 years but which only recently began to invest in sports marketing.

There are others calling because of SpongeTech’s “America’s Cleaning Company” tag line, as they want to know when the firm can come clean up some industrial spill. That’s changing now, as the tag has been altered, and many stadium signs will soon now have the new slogan, “The Smarter Sponge.”

SpongeTech is on nine outfield walls and
has deals with all but two MLB clubs.

Sports fans will be getting even more familiar with the SpongeTech name as the company is in the midst of cutting multiple NFL team deals that will see it in at least half the league’s stadiums this season. With some of SpongeTech’s stadium signs appearing where banks and auto brands used to be, Schwartzberg acknowledges readily that his company is benefiting from the economic downturn that has produced an oversupply of signage at various sports venues. Accordingly, some club marketers have termed the company “bottom feeders.”

But, naturally, SpongeTech has a different view.

“We are negotiating deals that would have been unheard of in another year,” Schwartzberg said. “We’re spending approximately $20 million on marketing in 2009, and getting maybe four to five times that much in value.”

Terms of the club deals vary depending on market and inventory, as the most extensive deals include TV, radio, outfield and home plate signage, while the other less-extensive don’t feature such elements.

No one is confusing SpongeTech’s budget with the amount of dollars that used to be an annuity from the auto and banking categories. However, it is new money at a time when every sports property is seeking just that. Company officials say their campaign within MLB is working, even if it appears counterintuitive.

SpongeTech says sports effectively
reaches the company’s target market
of women 25-54.

“Our target market is women 25-54, so sports may seem like a strange way to reach them,” Schwartzberg said, “but it is working, because there are lots of women watching sports, too.”

He said the company had revenue of $55,000 three years ago but is projecting $55 million in sales this year.

As the name suggests, SpongeTech markets sponges, but they are not the commodity product found under the kitchen sink. Their sponges are more comparable to bottles of cleaner, so the company refers to them as “delivery systems.” So, for $7.95 to $19.95, you can buy a sponge filled with enough wash and wax to clean and shine a car six to eight times, or with sufficient shampoo for six months worth of pet washing.

Other sponge-specific products include one for tub and tile, and one for bathing children, which will soon be marketed with a “SpongeBob” license. The company has been built as a direct response retailer, but the recent additional exposure is helping it increase distribution to brick and mortar retailers, including Costco, Rite Aid and CVS. SpongeTech says aided awareness from its marketing activities has helped it increase North American retail locations from 1,700 locations to 40,000 today, with a goal of 100,000 locations by year’s end.

SpongeTech has been using a variety of agencies for its team deals: CAA Sports, ANC and Van Wagner.

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