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That's Their Ticket : Sprint-Stones Link Shows Corporate Sponsorship of Concerts

September 18, 1997|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lew Menechino can't believe he almost traded a chance at getting tickets to an upcoming Rolling Stones concert for a tub of ice cream.

Earlier this year, the 42-year-old Colorado resident almost switched his long-distance service from Sprint Corp. to a competitor that dangled a bag of goodies--including free Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

So the longtime Stones fan breathed a sigh of relief when Sprint announced that its customers would get first crack at tickets for the Stones' "Bridges to Babylon" tour that kicks off Sept. 23 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

"There's no way I could have gotten these tickets without Sprint," said Menechino, who had slept overnight in front of a ticket window in order to get tickets for the aging rock band's 1981 tour.

Sprint, which paid a reported $4 million to the Stones, isn't the only company hitching a ride on the rock sponsorship bandwagon. Best Buy Co. will tour this fall with Fleetwood Mac, and Fruit of the Loom is spending more than $6 million to produce a national tour featuring top country acts like Hank Williams Jr. and Travis Tritt.

The high-profile partnerships are designed to burnish a corporation's image among free-spending consumers as well as to help them sell telephones, cars and beer.

"When a product or service becomes a commodity, the consumer has trouble differentiating between companies," said Jim Andrews, vice president of Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report. "These kinds of events help a corporation stand out."

Sprint's name will be printed on Stones concert tickets and on a banner above the stage. But the true measure of success will be how many customers its advance-ticket offer draws from long-distance competitors.

Similarly, Best Buy hopes to polish its image by rubbing shoulders with the popular rock band. But the retail chain really wants to pull music-loving Mac fans into its 280 stores to buy more CDs and tapes.

Not every match is made in marketing heaven.

Several entertainment industry executives were stunned this past summer when Greenwich, Conn.-based UTS Inc. used a youth-oriented summer festival to pitch Skoal smokeless tobacco products.

And, in the quirky world of rock 'n' roll, a corporate sponsorship doesn't always sit well with fans.

"What happens next time if they cut a deal with Ford?" asked Albuquerque resident John Franks IV, who is using his Web site to urge a Sprint boycott. "Will I have to buy an Explorer or a Mustang before I can buy a ticket?"

Sprint's deal underscores that the band fronted by former London School of Economics student Mick Jagger typically gets what it wants from corporate sponsors.

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The band signed an unprecedented deal in 1981 with perfume maker Jovan and subsequently partnered with Volkswagen and Anheuser-Busch, which reportedly paid about $6 million to sponsor the 1989 "Steel Wheels" tour.

More recently, Jagger and co-author Keith Richards sold Microsoft Corp. the rights to use "Start Me Up" as the soundtrack for the Windows 95 introduction--for a reported $12 million.

"In 1981, a lot of people were asking what the hell perfume had to do with rock," said Gary Daugherty, executive director of Performance, a Fort Worth-based trade magazine. "Now most acts won't go on tour without some kind of deal."

Increasingly, what goes on inside the concert hall is just a small fraction of what a well-constructed sponsorship deal can deliver.

"Our main interest in all of the events we sponsor is the buildup to the actual event," said Jan Soderstrom, an executive vice president of marketing for San Francisco-based Visa International, which has sponsored tours by Paul McCartney and Elton John.

"Even more important are the overlays and promotional spins you can create outside of the concert," said Lee Heiman, a partner with New York-based Track Marketing, which has created corporate sponsorships for artists.

Successful sponsorship deals make an immediate connection with concert-goers, said Kevin Lyman, co-founder of the Vans "Warped Tour '97," an alternative musical tour that's owned in part by Creative Artists Agency.

Some sponsorship opportunities are best left untapped. Calvin Klein and Warped Tour executives quickly realized that the upscale clothing company was a poor fit for a tour that attracts teens who support alternative rockers.

Other deals are perfect fits.

Bailey Hats Co. has yet to hang its banner inside a concert hall. But a three-year affiliation with performer Clint Black proved to be a winner because the country singer--who regularly wore the Fort Worth-based company's hats on stage--was a walking advertisement. "Clint helped us move into new territory among country music lovers," said Bailey Vice President Chip Alexander.

Fruit of the Loom found country music's demographics to be a perfect fit with its customer base, which led to the "Fruit of the Loom Country Comfort Tour."

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