Weight Watchers Int’l, Inc. is nibbling at sponsorship.

The company will use a brand new partnership with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals as a pilot program to determine if sports teams and other properties can help attract new customers.

The deal gives the country’s largest weight management company naming rights to the club’s training camp and exhibition season this October.

“If this is successful, we definitely would look at partnering with other venues,” said Kristi Widmar, PR manager for the company’s Western Region, which is managing the sponsorship.

Sponsorship at this level is a new tactic for Weight Watchers, which has relied on traditional advertising and word-of-mouth marketing to promote its program of weekly meetings and a points-based system for monitoring food choices.

A sports tie fits with the publicly traded company’s goal of attracting more male customers. Men are seen as a growth area for the weight control category, which historically has targeted women. Weight Watchers has recently developed customized services for male clients.

“The sponsorship gives us a chance to talk to men about healthy lifestyles in an environment they feel comfortable in,” Widmar noted.

Sponsorship also gives the company a point of differentiation in the highly competitive weight control category. Researcher Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. expects consumers in the U.S. to spend $58.7 billion on diet-related products this year, a number that is expected to approach $69 billion in 2010.

In addition to full-service programs such as Weight Watchers, other segments of the industry include the group of products commonly referred to as “diet pills”, as well as food home-delivery services, meal-replacement products, books and videos, and other niches.

Points Take On New Meaning For Admirals Fans
Weight Watchers will activate the hockey tie by hosting weekly meetings and private weigh-ins at the Bradley Center an hour before the arena opens on game nights.

When the team is out of town, the company will host midday meetings at the venue. The Admirals will promote the program via in-arena signage, on the team Web site and through correspondence with season-ticket holders.

To generate additional buzz, the team is conducting a President’s Club weight-loss competition in which fans who sign up for Weight Watchers’ monthly plans can compete against Admirals president Jon Greenberg. Greenberg came up with the idea of pitching the company after he and coworkers talked about their desire to shed some extra pounds.

To encourage participation, fans who take part in the competition will have Weight Watchers’ $20 initial registration fee waived. While details of the promotion still are being finalized, winners likely will receive a trip and discounts on Admirals tickets and team merchandise, Greenberg said.

Weight Watchers will track new customers and the percentage of those customers that purchase additional products and services to determine success, Widmar said.

How Sponsorship Works At Weight Watchers
The company funded its Admirals partnership out of multiple budgets. After receiving the proposal, Widmar reached out to district manager Sue Grilli, who oversees Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Kathy Lesak, territory manager for the Milwaukee area.

In addition to funding from those offices, Donna Fontana, Weight Watchers vice president of PR, secured corporate funding and signed off on the deal.

“We had to tap local marketing, as well as regional and corporate public relations budgets, but it was one of those programs that was too good to walk away from,” Widmar said. “This is a partnership that fits all our departments.”

Weight Watchers’ Western Region office is located in San Ramon, Calif. Widmar is based in Leawood, Kan., home to the company’s former Central Region office before a corporate reorganization reduced the number of regions to two at the beginning of ’06. Weight Watchers’ Eastern Region is based at the company’s New York City headquarters.

Territory managers sometimes support local properties through in-kind donations of Weight Watchers’ branded products, many of which are produced by licensees.

Other active sponsors in the weight control category includes Slim-Fast Foods Co., which sponsors the Speaking of Women’s Health tour, and Herbalife Int’l, Inc.

Demonstrating the category’s interest in reaching men, NutriSystem, Inc., has recently entered into a number of endorsement deals with former pro athletes and coaches, including Dan Marino, John Kruk and Don Shula.