While it may not have a no vacancy sign, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.’s sponsorship portfolio is rapidly approaching full capacity.

The hotel company is expanding its portfolio to support its international expansion and gain unique, one-of-a-kind experiences for its Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program.  

Starwood—which operates more than 1,000 properties under the Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis and six other brand names—has recently expanded its presence in motorsports.

The company earlier this year inked official hotel status with two teams: the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team and Penske Racing, a team that competes in the NASCAR and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

IEG SR spoke with Paulo Pena, Starwood’s vice president of global partnerships, about the company’s growing focus on multinational properties, how it uses sponsorship to build relations with SPG members and other topics.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: Starwood has partnerships with sports, arts and entertainment organizations ranging from Cirque du Soleil to Live Nation and Penske Racing. What is the primary driver behind those relationships?

Pena: The primary purpose of our sponsorship activity is to find unique access and experiences for Starwood Preferred Guest members.

The majority of our sponsorships are centered around the SPG program, and we work with our various partners to find unique and innovative experiences for SPG members.

IEG SR: Starwood sponsors some properties on behalf of the SPG brand and others on behalf of individual hotel brands. How does that break down?

Pena: We look for partners that can provide some type of experiential experience, and we combine that with an individual brand. We typically use sponsorship for the benefit of our SPG program and one or more of our hotel brands.

IEG SR: Can you share an example?

Pena: We sponsor Live Nation, which is at the core an SPG sponsorship. But it also provides digital media opportunities for our various brands. We also do individual programs or performances that may have a branding opportunity.

For example, we’re running a program this year that involves acoustic performances by various artists at our nine hotel brands around the world.  Each of those events is a SPG member event, but we take the opportunity to bring to life branding elements at each event.

We just completed a performance by Natasha Bedingfield at the Grosvenor House in Dubai, which is one of our Luxury Collection Hotels. Last week Rob Garza from Thievery Corporation performed at the W hotel in Santiago, Chile, and later in the year Denise Ho will perform at the Sheraton Macau.

We activate Live Nation and other partnerships to offer other experiences for SPG members. That includes drum lessons with Nickelback, a tennis clinic with Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open and the opportunity to play golf with a professional golfer.

IEG SR: Do Starwood’s nine brands each have their own sponsorship platform, such as Westin and tennis?

Pena: I wouldn’t say there is a platform for each individual brand. We utilize sponsorship assets with brands that make the most sense. Westin currently has an association with the U.S. Open of tennis, but the hotel also has some branding exposure at various golf events.  

St. Regis will be the brand we work on with the America’s Cup next year. Brand involvement varies from event to event. We look at each property, its fan base and on-site activation opportunities, and we marry that against the brand that makes the most sense.

IEG SR: Starwood this year expanded its presence in the motorsports space with new deals with Penske Racing and the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team. What is the driver behind those partnerships?

Pena: We kicked off our motorsports program with Mercedes AMG Petronas. This is our first year working with Mercedes. The partnership works well because we are a global property and most of the races take place in our major markets. And obviously, Mercedes is a great brand to be associated with.

IEG SR: Starwood could have partnered with Formula One last year or next year. Why now? Were there any particular factors that promoted the partnership?

Pena: The opportunity came to us at the right time. We’re expanding globally at a rapid pace, and the markets that Formula One goes through are some of our most important markets, such as Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Singapore.

Formula One has a lifestyle around it that suits us well. We haven’t done a lot of motorsports in the U.S., and the Penske relationship felt like a good opportunity to provide some unique experiences.

IEG SR: Do you use sponsorship from a B2B perspective?

Pena: We try to utilize sponsorship assets across multiple stakeholders. From a B2B perspective that includes hotel owners, developers and corporate customers.

IEG SR: Starwood has been involved in sponsorship for many years. Has your strategy changed over the years, and if so, how?

Pena: Our strategy hasn’t really changed, but it has evolved. It has become centered on experiences for SPG members outside of hotel stays. Our strategy also has become more global in nature. We look for opportunities that we can leverage in multiple markets, such as Live Nation, Cirque du Soleil and Formula One.

IEG SR: Unlike some other companies, Starwood takes a centralized approach to sponsorship by managing both global and regional partnerships out of its corporate office. Tell me about that.

Pena: We drive our global strategy from the center, but we work closely with divisional operations and marketing teams to activate at the local level. We always engage our international divisional teams in the initial thinking around a sponsorship so that we know what they think going in.

Once we’re in, we work closely with our divisional teams to activate at the local level. But we do have a corporate global team that thinks through the strategy and maintains a certain element of control.

IEG SR: Where do you see the sponsorship industry going forward? 

Pena: I see deeper relationships between properties and sponsors. That includes integrated partnerships that include B2B activity between the two organizations. Properties and sponsors need to think about each other’s business and how they can benefit each other.