When the Florida Panthers take the ice at home tonight for the first time in this young NHL season, they will be sporting the logo of LaCroix Sparkling Water on their jerseys, having finalized a first-time patch sponsorship with the brand this week. The debut is the first major sports sponsorship for the popular zero-calorie, naturally flavored, unsweetened canned beverage that is now available in 28 flavors.
The multiyear deal is an expansion of an existing “official sparkling water” agreement between LaCroix and the team that includes sales/pouring rights at concession stands and bars throughout Amerant Bank Arena, as well as the Panthers IceDen recreational skating and hockey facility and the team’s under-construction training facility, the Baptist Health IcePlex at FTL War Memorial.
In addition, the brand is now the presenting partner of the Panthers Learn To Play initiative, an introductory hockey program for children ages five to nine. Participants receive six weeks of on-ice training and a custom-fitted full set of hockey equipment to keep. LaCroix will have a jersey and helmet patch on the youth equipment.
Whenever a leading brand in a hot category takes a significant step into sports and entertainment sponsorship—and certainly an estimated mid-seven-figure-a-year patch deal qualifies—it’s a noteworthy development that piques the interest of industry practitioners, particularly partnership sales teams.
The big question many will have is: Is this the first of more sponsorships, whether from LaCroix itself or competitors in the flavored sparkling water category? My educated guess is that rights holders should not expect a windfall from either the brand or others in the sector.
LaCroix is an interesting marketing case. Originally introduced in 1980 by G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisc.—which Midwesterners and Chicago Cubs fans know as the original brewer of Old Style beer—the brand was sold to the company that is now known as National Beverage Corporation in 1992.
Over the years, LaCroix has, for the most part, eschewed not just sponsorship, but traditional media advertising. When National Beverage made a push to expand it from a regional to a coast-to-coast product about a decade ago, it did so primarily through social media and the use of influencers to reach its target market of health-conscious, active young professionals and college students in urban areas.
The strategy has worked thus far, with the brand becoming the top unsweetened sparkling water in the U.S. LaCroix has a 14.2 percent market share in the flavored seltzer/sparkling/mineral water category (which includes sweetened beverages), according to Circana data.
So why an NHL jersey patch deal now? Certainly a big reason behind the Panthers partnership is the hometown tie, with National Beverage—which also owns the Faygo and Shasta soft drink brands, Pure juices and other beverage lines—is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.
If the brand wins with the patch sponsorship—however it chooses to define success—it could develop a thirst for more partnerships. But it’s also very possible this is a one and done situation.
As for the flavored sparkling water sector, sponsorship sellers may have difficulty gaining traction there as well.
Two of the largest brands, Bubly and AHA, are owned by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, respectively, so it’s likely they would be bundled into their parent companies’ partnerships rather than representing a discrete new source of sponsorship revenue.
Another major player, Polar Seltzer, could be a partnership prospect, although the privately held Polar Beverages has never invested heavily in advertising and marketing.