What the heck's SpongeTech?

Originally Published: September 15, 2009
By Tim Keown | Page 2

Oliver PerezRich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesIf you try to avoid the SpongeTech logo, you won't see many sporting events these days.

For further proof the world seeps into our consciousness through our peripheral vision, we present SpongeTech, a company in the process of demanding your attention, a little at a time.

One year ago yesterday, nobody had heard of SpongeTech. But then the economy collapsed and Lehman Brothers folded and AIG went bankrupt and now you can't watch a sporting event without at least being vaguely aware of the words "SpongeTech: America's Cleaning Company." And most of the time, if you see the SpongeTech advertising, whether it's behind home plate or along the sideline at the U.S. Open tennis tournament or NFL games or at bass fishing tournaments, you're probably going to ask yourself, "What the heck is SpongeTech?"

We'll get to that. But first, the strange part: There is a direct connection between the collapse of our financial institutions and the sudden visibility of a sponge company. SpongeTech is a New York-based company, and after the meltdown the people who run it had an idea: They would approach professional sports teams with the idea of taking over in-stadium advertising space previously used by companies that were either defunct or not interested in taking huge bailout funds and having to answer questions about why they're spending to litter America's backstops.

With the advertising market destroyed, SpongeTech made deals with teams desperate to fill space and cash checks. They made a big push in Madison Square Garden and went from there. "We took up a lot of the advertising space that had been used by AIG," says SpongeTech COO Steven Moskowitz. He says it almost apologetically, but it makes sense. It was the perfect opportunity buy, and the SpongeTech suits were smart enough to lock into three-year deals at the down-market rates, thereby ensuring that anybody who wants to learn about the company won't have to worry about forgetting it exists, providing it still does.

Now SpongeTech is in 26 big league ballparks, seven NFL stadiums, a few hockey -- and one NBA -- arenas. Saturday was a huge day for SpongeTech, mostly because Serena Williams chose to blow a gasket in the U.S. Open semifinal directly in front of the SpongeTech logo. The only thing better would have been if they'd cleaned her potty mouth with one of the products -- PuddlePal, anyone?

While Serena was unwittingly furthering the SpongeTech cause, what else was happening? "On Sunday you could watch us on three different networks at any one time," Moskowitz says proudly. "And in New York alone, there were 60,000 at the U.S. Open, almost 50,000 at the Yankee game and almost 80,000 at the Giants game. All of them saw our ads."

So, what the heck is SpongeTech? It bills itself as "America's Cleaning Company," which conjures images of an army of janitors swarming office buildings as soon as the last briefcase hits the sidewalk. SpongeTech is officially called "SpongeTech Delivery Systems," which further confuses the issue. The delivery system in question is the delivery of the soap to the object that needs to be cleaned -- dog, kid, countertop, '79 Dodge Dart -- brought to you courtesy of the pre-soaped sponge that makes the company what it is.

Yes, that's what SpongeTech is, a company that makes sponges with built-in soap, a process that removes the taxing and potentially messy procedure of actually adding the soap yourself. They make sponges for cleaning pets, homes, kids, cars, boats -- if it needs to be cleaned, there's a pretty good chance they've got a sponge to fit the occasion. And best of all, you don't have to be your own delivery system. That'll free your mind.

Moskowitz says the increased exposure has paid off exponentially. I didn't get sales figures, but he says, "We've had a tremendous increase. The response has been way beyond anything we could have imagined, but we never could have afforded this if the economy hadn't gone in the tank."

OK, so why sports? Why would a company that makes car sponges and baby-bath sponges and SpongeBob sponges (for real) think ballparks were the best place to showcase those products? Wouldn't it seem logical to advertise on Nickelodeon and HGTV and NASCAR races?

And since they've chosen to target us, what do they know about us that we don't know about ourselves?

"It seemed like a natural fit," Moskowitz says. "It's baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet, and everybody that has a car has to wash it. So it's perfect."

OK. Go on.

"The demographics are the same," he says. "The same people who follow sports and attend sporting events are the same people who wash their cars and their pets. You know, you've got Petco Park -- sports and pets go together."

OK. That's a little like saying everybody who watches a sporting event eats, so it makes sense for a company that sells food to advertise at a ballgame. And, well, it does. Can't argue with any of it.

Maybe a bigger reason for the sudden ubiquity of SpongeTech is this: Moskowitz is a big sports fan. He saw an opening, and he took it. If you've read this far, it's working.

And of course, the advertising onslaught has created a world of sports fans who know SpongeTech products as well as they know McDonald's, right?

"No, but we're hoping we get there," Moskowitz says. "Right now most of the people are still asking, 'What the heck's SpongeTech?'"

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Sound off to Tim here.

Tim Keown | email

ESPN Senior Writer