Spending on concert and venue corporate sponsorships is expected to reach $695 million in 2004 -- a 21% leap from last year's $575 million, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report. This makes music th

Spending on concert and venue corporate sponsorships is expected to reach $695 million in 2004 -- a 21% leap from last year's $575 million, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report. This makes music the fastest-growing corporate sponsorship category.

Financially strapped labels are dropping tour support at the same time that branding is becoming an increasingly competitive business, says IEG senior editor William Chipps. "Labels are looking for marketing help in promoting their talent. And they may not be able to bring cash for that, but they can give [sponsors] promotional firepower too," he explains.

Chipps says beefed-up rivalry is pushing executives from the telecom and gaming sectors to seek out non-traditional marketing options for their products, such as tour sponsorships. Examples include Verizon Wireless linking with Puddle Of Mudd for the band's tour in November, and Xbox Live partnering with Korn and Limp Bizkit for the Back 2 Basics outing last fall.

Aside from telecom and gaming, IEG notes that the 10 most-active sponsorship categories in 2003 included auto, beer/spirits, candy, credit cards, footwear/apparel, non-alcoholic beverages, personal care products and quick-serve restaurants.

Several industries are entering the field for the first time. Contact-lens company CIBA Vision crafted its inaugural sponsorship with August's FreshLook Fresh Faces Tour, starring BMG upstarts Nikki Cleary and Nodesha.

"It's kind of a unique period in the entertainment world," says Xbox director of marketing Bill Nielsen. "The music industry is struggling to reach the consumer. And we're trying to reach ours. And now we're working together a lot more ... to activate a lot of these consumers together."