The past few months have seen a flurry of sponsorship activity from computer networking giant Cisco Systems, Inc.

The company signed a three-year deal with the NBA last fall, sponsored the NHL All-Star Game in January and recently announced a partnership with the Sports Museum of America, which will open in May in New York City.

Those deals come on the heels of the late ’06 announcement of a 30-year, $120 million naming rights deal for the MLB Oakland A’s proposed ballpark.

The sponsorships are multi-purpose, serving to reinforce the company’s corporate branding campaign, showcase its technology to business customer decision-makers and demonstrate its commitment to providing specific products for the sports and entertainment industries.

Cisco’s latest twists on its sponsorships are to use them to speak to European and Asian prospects, as well as North American companies, and also to reach small and medium-size U.S. businesses, as well as large corporations.

For example, Cisco was drawn to the museum in part because the venue is expected to draw 40 percent of its visitors from outside the U.S., said Diane Dudeck, the company’s senior director of worldwide media, entertainment and sponsorship marketing.

The company’s non-exclusive marketing partnership with the NBA includes rights to promote the relationship in China, she added.

The alignment with the NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta enabled Cisco to reach the owners of small and mid-size companies, “a demographic that indexes well with the NHL,” Dudeck said.

Cisco received exposure on NHL.com, title of NHL.TV’s All-Star All-Access Show and a hospitality event that featured visits from league officials and current and former players. The company leveraged the tie by providing technology to power the NHL’s online All-Star balloting, as well as deploying the company’s digital signage system–which is capable of displaying multimedia content–at host venue Philips Arena.

In reviewing opportunities, Cisco begins with how well the property can support its Human Network branding initiative. “We view sponsorship as an enhancement to a strong brand campaign,” Dudeck said.

At the same time that campaign was getting underway four years ago, Cisco also was launching networking services for sports venues, including digital signage, interactive kiosks, and technology that allows fans to use their mobile devices to order food and beverages from their seats.

“We have to be relevant to sports fans now because we have a whole set of solutions that enhance the fan experience,” Dudeck noted.

Cisco measures sponsorship success primarily from the branding perspective, Dudeck said, pointing to media impressions and the number of people exposed to the company’s on-site presence.

“We look at the reach and the frequency of the media portion of the investment. If we meet that hurdle, we look for hospitality and other benefits that help our baseline investment.”

In addition to large-scale sponsorships, Cisco also has a smattering of targeted sponsorships designed to build relationships with specific customer groups. For example, the company sponsors Arlington, Va.’s Marine Corps Marathon to connect with federal government employees, Dudeck said.

Museum To Include Host Of Emerging Cisco Technologies
As exclusive technology-solutions provider for the Sports Museum of America, Cisco will activate the three-year, multimillion-dollar cash and in-kind deal with high tech interactive installations.

The museum, located in lower Manhattan, will be the permanent home of the Heisman Trophy and the Billie Jean King Int’l Women’s Sports Center, in addition to exhibiting memorabilia and artifacts from more than 50 sports.

Cisco will present a permanent Stadium of the Future exhibit that will feature the company’s latest technologies designed to make attending games more interactive. The company also will install digital signage that will feature live sports video in addition to museum information and custom messaging for other museum sponsors.

Cisco also will power interactive sports trivia kiosks on site, as well as use its new entertainment operating system for the museum Web site’s social networking and online community feature. The company’s TelePresence video and audio technology will allow visitors to participate in virtual round-table discussions and in-person chats with athletes and other sports celebrities.

On the baseball front, the company also will leverage Cisco Field–scheduled to open in 2011 in Fremont, Calif.–as a product showcase.