The snow is melting, the temperatures are climbing again, and the days are getting longer. It’s time to dream about summer: the warm evenings on the back porch, long walks in the park, outdoor summer concerts and (not to detract from our dreaming) a few messages from our corporate sponsor.
That’s right, it’s hard to imagine enjoying a concert or sporting event these days without being bombarded by commercials, product samples, signage, free coupons and trinkets branded by corporate logos. And at these events you don’t have the ability to hit the MUTE button or change the channel to avoid the commercial.
For instance, if you’re a country music fan in St. Louis this May, you can check out the “George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival” at the TWA Dome. The presence of the tour’s sponsors, GM Card, Chevy Trucks, Jack Daniels, Pemmican Beef Jerky, Wrangler, Justin Boots and Resistol Hats is sure to be felt, not to mention the dozen-or-so sponsors of the venue itself.
Is this out of control? A lot of artists think so. Last summer concert organizers withheld $5,000 from hard rock band Guster when they simply badmouthed the sponsors from the stage of the “Hard Rock Café Rockfest Presented By Oldsmobile Alero.” The renowned children’s entertainer, Raffi, pulled out of the Vancouver Children’s Festival to protest a Kia Motors automobile display at the event. And, the stadium-filling band Radiohead toured Europe with their own 10,000-person tent in order to avoid corporate controlled venues.
As admirable as Radiohead’s effort was, it’s not a path many can follow. Most performers have to play in venues whose corporate tie-in’s are outside the artist’s control. And to make things worse, the fans often don’t realize that the artist isn’t getting a nickel from the logos emblazoned on the venue’s walls. Once upon a time performers like Neil Young could make a statement by avoiding corporate sponsorships. Today that’s a statement nobody can hear.
In response to this situation, we began a few years ago to work with artists to see if we could recast the whole issue of corporate sponsorship. Just as we’ve given investors a new lens–that of shareholder activism–through which to view their investments, we’re trying to help performers see sponsorship as an opportunity for leverage on corporations and their policies.
What if Madonna publicly asked all potential sponsors of her next tour to provide evidence that their manufacturing was sweatshop-free? What if Ricky Martin held a press conference to announce that all sponsor candidates had to be signatories of the CERES Environmental Principles? What if Dave Matthews issued a statement saying he would consider sponsorships only from corporations that have adopted explicit non-discrimination policies for gays and lesbians in the workplace? What if?
This is the future we’re imagining. Artists and musicians are cultural icons for hundreds of millions of fans—fans who comprise one of the most coveted markets on the planet. If artists tell sponsors that access to this market is conditional on proof of their good corporate citizenship, then companies that can provide such proof will have an edge in the marketplace. And that edge, like any other, has direct implications for the almighty bottom line.
Of course entertainment sponsorship is just the tip of the iceberg. Corporations are replacing philanthropy with “cause marketing,” entering into promotions with non-profit organizations and various public institutions. Public transit authorities are granting sponsorships for subway stops from Boston to San Francisco. If there’s room for a corporate logo, somebody’s already negotiating. Giving good corporate citizens—and those willing to become better corporate citizens—an edge in this burgeoning trend could turn what has been a purely commercial enterprise into a force for social change. Sound familiar?
For more information, visit the Entertainment Consulting Services portion of our website.