Sports sponsorship is a billion-dollar business, but much of the money is concentrated on just a few sports and superstars. The Hamburg-based startup Sponsoo, on the other hand, depicts the entire diversity of the sports world on its platform and has become a market leader in Europe.
Sports have always played a crucial role in the professional life of Andreas Kitzing, the CEO and one of the founders of Sponsoo. Even as a schoolboy, he wrote articles about amateur soccer for the Hamburger Abendblatt, the city's most important local newspaper. He worked in customer service for HSV, Hamburg's largest soccer club, for about a year and a half. He also made an early appearance as a founder. In April 2006, he launched Abirechner.de, a website for calculating grade point averages. In 2019, he sold it to the student platform StudyHelp.
Also in 2006, he began his business studies at the University of Hamburg, and in 2007 he launched another startup, CollegeFriends, a German-Hungarian student network, which he sold in 2008. In 2013, his studies took him to the legendary University of Cambridge, where he was a member of the Pembroke College Boat Club. Cambridge is also where the idea for Sponsoo was born, initially at a Startup Weekend, and later a more mature concept won £1,000 in a pitch competition.
In 2014, Sponsoo was officially founded. The co-founder at the time was Bela J. Anda, who had learned about the project via the Internet and left a job at Rocket Internet in Bangladesh for the new task. At the beginning of 2015, Christian Kaspar joined the company and is still its CTO today. Sponsoo got a big boost from its participation in the SpeedUP! Europe accelerator initiated by the European Union, which had its headquarters in Hamburg and in which a total of 100 startups took part. At the finals in November 2015, the team secured an additional 50,000 euros in prize money on top of the 50,000 euros in funding. The main winner of the evening was Fashion Cloud, another Hamburg-based startup with which Sponsoo temporarily shared an office.
Sponsoo owed its success to closing a gap in the market. When you think of sports sponsorship, the first thing that comes to mind are the big stars and clubs from the most popular sports, such as football, Formula 1 or tennis. But sponsoring is possible and makes sense on a much smaller scale, for example in the support of youth teams and athletes who achieve great things in marginal sports but cannot make a living from it. Offering them a platform was the original idea behind Sponsoo.
However, the offer has long since outgrown its supposed niches. Today, Sponsoo presents itself as Europe's largest marketplace for sports sponsorship, with almost 12,500 individual athletes, around 9,500 clubs and over 700 associations, as well as almost 4,800 companies that can act as sponsors. Virtually all sports are represented, with dozens of Olympic and world champions. Football clubs from the top flights of Germany, Spain and France have registered, and word of Sponsoo's recipe for success has spread as far as the United States. For example, the St. Louis Blues ice hockey team, 2019 Stanley Cup winners, recently created a profile.
This is the first step for anyone presenting themselves at Sponsoo. In this profile, athletes and clubs can outline which sponsorship forms they are available for and what they have to offer. Companies, which also have to register, create sponsorship offers that match the profile details. If both parties agree, Sponsoo receives a commission and, if necessary, helps with details such as drawing up the contract or ordering jerseys.
The business model quickly proved successful, and the first customers arrived while the company was still at SpeedUP! Europe. In 2016, the first round of financing, in which Hamburg-based business angel Thomas Weidner and the sports marketing agency Jung von Matt/SPORTS were involved, provided further momentum. The next financing round in the mid-six-figure range followed at the end of 2017.
Sponsoo went steadily uphill until 2020, with sales increasing by 200 to 300 percent per year. Then the Covid pandemic caused a severe setback for this startup as well. Sales to existing customers fell by up to 90 percent. There were several reasons for this; companies got into economic difficulties and drastically cut their marketing budgets. Numerous sporting events were completely cancelled or took place to the exclusion of a live audience - just remember the ghost games in football.
To survive this lean period, Sponsoo downsized its team and accelerated the digitisation of its processes. Fortunately, a financing round planned for 2020 was not cancelled, but only postponed. As a result, the startup was able to announce funding of 1.4 million euros at the end of the year. The round was led by business angel Andreas Mihalovits, who had previously invested. Also involved were some existing shareholders such as BMW's Head of Global Sponsorship Thorsten Mattig as well as the European Super Angels Club, VC investor Claas Nieraad and VR Bank Nord. The Corona Recovery Fund of IFB Innovationsstarter GmbH also played an important role in Sponsoo's continued existence.
This enabled the startup to pick up speed again from 2021 and push ahead with its internationalisation, especially since the European Super Angels Club added another six-figure sum. By now, the website is not only available in German, but also in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic and Finnish. The latter is due to the acquisition of the competitor Sponssa from Helsinki, which was announced in July 2022 and opened new doors into the Scandinavian market.
There, as almost everywhere, perimeter advertising remains the most sought-after form of sponsorship, in arenas and stadiums as well as as digital overlays during live broadcasts. In terms of sports, football remains the perennial favourite, beach volleyball is also doing well, and e-sports is becoming increasingly important worldwide. But speed chess is also finding its audience and looking for sponsors - Sponsoo makes it possible, as it does for firmly all other sports. One last unfulfilled dream is to get Formula 1 onto the platform as well.
As a longtime and steadfast HSV fan, founder and CEO Andreas Kitzing naturally has a close relationship with Hamburg. But from an entrepreneurial perspective, too, there is much to be said for his hometown.