The growing overlap between wireless phones and financial services is prompting new sponsorship activity from a small but quickly growing category: mobile payment providers.

While consumers in many parts of Europe and Asia use mobile phones to make purchases and for person-to-person money transfers, mobile payment technology has been slow to catch on in the U.S.

But that is starting to change, with a growing number of companies either gearing up or rolling out mobile payment services. Players include credit card issuers, retail banks, telcos and online payment companies, all of whom are jockeying to build their brands and gain share in the nascent industry.

That competition already has resulted in new sponsorship deals and activation programs.

Case in point: American Express Co. sponsored the August 12-14 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco to promote Serve, its five-month-old mobile payment service.

In addition, Samsung Electronics Co. and Visa, Inc. are leveraging their IOC TOP sponsorships to develop an Olympic-themed phone equipped with contactless payment technology around the 2012 London Games.

Mobile payment technology varies from company to company. Samsung’s Olympic phone uses near field communication, a technology that lets consumers make a purchase by holding the phone in front of a contactless reader at the point of purchase.

On the flip side, consumers can use AmEx’s Serve payment system to shop online and transfer money to friends and family. Customers use a Serve debit card for purchases in brick-and-mortar stores.

Other players in the mobile payment space include PayPal, Inc.; Google, Inc.; and Isis, a national mobile commerce platform that is a joint venture between AT&T Inc., T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless.

Serving Up Serve’s Sponsorship Objectives
AmEx partnered with Outside Lands to accomplish three primary goals: build visibility for Serve, educate consumers about the service and acquire new customers.

The company aligned with the festival due to its large size, established history and location, said Charlotte Fuller, AmEx’s manager of corporate affairs and communications. “The festival attracts a large audience, and it is known for drawing tech-savvy people from the Bay Area.”

AmEx activated the sponsorship with an on-site experiential area that featured a video game arcade, food and drink and acoustic performances by Outside Lands performers.

To encourage trial, AmEx gave each attendee $10 in video game tokens in exchange for their email address. It then sent each attendee $10 in a Serve account for use after the festival. “We want people to understand the service and how simple it is,” Fuller said.

Acts that performed at the Serve arcade included OK Go, Josh Ritter and Rhett Miller from the Old 97’s.

AmEx posted photos of the performances and other festival-themed content on Visitors to the Facebook page also could RSVP to the Serve arcade and receive VIP seats to the acoustic performances by downloading the Serve mobile phone app. The company also distributed Serve-branded blankets to consumers who checked in via Foursquare.

AmEx will track the number of email addresses and new accounts to measure success, said Fuller, noting that success could prompt additional deals.

The credit card company created Serve based on technology obtained through its 2010 acquisition of Revolution Money.