by Bruce Lazarus


Every Tuesday night I host a free TeleCourse in which I invite a different theatre-industry professional to discuss an aspect of the theatrical production process with both experienced and novice producers.

Our guest was producer Tom Viertel, currently represented on Broadway by Smokey Joe's Café, Forever Tango, and the revival of the classic The Sound of Music. Tom spoke to the TeleCourse about pursuing sponsorship opportunities, and why it is important when investigating such opportunities to find the right sponsorship partner for your show, not just the wealthiest.

What exactly is a sponsorship? It is a situation wherein a company "ties in" with a show. Usually the show wants money, and in exchange for it, provides the company with some kind of exposure. Every sponsorship deal is different. There could be an upfront fee for the run of the show, or a weekly fee, or both. The producer could put the brand name over the show's title, as Tom did with Hallmark and The Sound of Music; or on the name of a new theater, as Livent's Ragtime at the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts; or on the title page of the program and tagged in all of the show's ads, for example Dannon with Madison Square Garden's A Christmas Carol. The company might underwrite part of the show's advertising budget, if its name and logo are to be included in the ads, or provide merchandise and high-profile audition space (as Macy's did with the recent Broadway production of Annie.) The show might provide the company with complimentary tickets to be given as employee incentives or as contest prizes, or discount tickets, backstage tours, walk-on roles, perhaps even product placement in the show (as the Broadway musical Big did for the famous toy store F.A.O. Schwartz). In most cases, the sponsors will probably not wish to "invest" in the show (where they would anticipate - or perhaps gamble - a return on their money). Instead, they would provide sponsorship "fees" in exchange for their brand's exposure to the show's captive audience and for the goodwill their brand name would receive by being associated with a quality show. To restate, the show gets to use the money, does not consider it an investment, does not have to return it, and does not have to give away any share of net profits. It is simply to be used in advertising and marketing that features the show and the sponsor.

Tom told the TeleCourse that companies have been sponsoring shows "on the road" for decades, but it is only within the past two or three years, since the presence of the Walt Disney Company, and Livent and the Ford Motor Company on 42nd Street, that corporate America has wised up to the benefits of associating itself with Broadway shows with any consistency. However, Tom pointed out, it is important to avoid just looking for deep pockets, and to find a company whose public image corresponds to the image you want for your show. Critics, particularly in New York, may deride a show for a corporate association, but if the association fits and is successful for the show and the company, this problem is a minor one.

As an example, Tom described the way in which The Sound of Music's sponsorship with Hallmark was set up. A fortuitous lunch meeting between the General Counsel for the Rogers and Hammerstein office (the rights owner of the musical) and a friend who happened to be at Hallmark got the conversation started. Hallmark Entertainment, the division of Hallmark that is co-producing The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway and produces the Hallmark Hall of Fame television films, was very interested in The Sound of Music. To the public, both are about the values of love, family, and tradition. The show uses the recognizable Hallmark card script and the Hallmark crown logo in their advertisements, which under the terms of the sponsorship agreement feature that name and logo above the title. Even though Hallmark Entertainment is the entity through which the sponsorship is being administrated, the public sees the ads and associates the show with the greeting card company.

The over $900,000 sponsorship fee from Hallmark allowed The Sound of Music to produce - and air often - a television ad directed by a former Hallmark commercial director (for that emotional Hallmark touch). This now-famous ad, featuring a little girl getting her own ticket to her first Broadway show - The Sound of Music - allowed the show to compete with shows like The Lion King and Ragtime that have much larger advertising budgets. In addition, it recognized that no one needs to see scenes from The Sound of Music, but people may need to be reminded that The Sound of Music is like an heirloom to be passed on to one's children.

Tom told the TeleCourse that arrangements like these can be made in any community on any level, with any business that wants to raise its profile by participating in joint advertising campaigns or special events with a show. A local business such as a store or restaurant might agree to pay for half the cost of a mailing if their name and logo is added to the flyer or card you are sending out. A larger business might loan a producer its customer mailing list in exchange for tickets to give away and its name and logo in the program or tagged in advertisements (although within New York City, a producer cannot promise space to a sponsor in its Playbill, as that magazine by contract with the theatre places advertisements).

That's Show Biz.

To listen to this TeleCourse in its entirety via RealAudio, go to Error! Reference source not found.. To participate in the next free Tuesday TeleCourse or just listen in, all you need is a telephone, however you must register by calling (212) 769-3282.

Bruce Lazarus is an entertainment attorney in New York City, the former Director of Business and Legal Affairs for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and producer of the current off-Broadway hit "Shakespeare's R&J."

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