Longer Deals, Bigger Activations For Shed Naming-Rights Clients Integral To Live Nation’s Amphitheater Strategy

Courtesy of Live Nation
– Sound Of Money
Huntington Bank has naming rights for Live Nation’s Chicago amphitheater.

Andy Peikon, Live Nation’s senior vice president of sales, oversees the group that sells naming rights for the promoter’s 46 amphitheaters across the country. It’s a thriving piece of the entertainment business that keeps Peikon and his 30-person sales staff busy considering the vast number of venues, the steady growth for Live Nation in building new amphitheaters and adding others through acquisition, and the active market for naming rights in general. VenuesNow spoke with Peikon about trends in sponsorship of outdoor music venues and where the business is headed. 

VENUESNOW: Explain Live Nation’s strategy for naming rights tied to amphitheaters. It’s obviously a different dynamic compared with arenas and stadiums.
ANDY PEIKON: We focus on working with local brands willing to invest back into the community. I remember the first deal I worked on (with Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, N.Y.) about 14 years ago, and essentially the brand just wanted to put their name on the building. Today, it’s very different. What has really evolved over the last 15 years with amphitheaters is the dialogue 365 days of the year. It’s not just communicating with the fan at the show. We’re speaking with them throughout the entire journey, from the minute they go online to discover who’s playing and buy a ticket to when they plan and pregame to when they experience the show and relive it after the fact. It’s a seasonal business, but we go on sale with shows (for the following year) starting in the fall. It’s not just a three- to four-month communication between the brand and our fans. It’s much longer than that.

What are the annual values for naming rights at amphitheaters?
We don’t discuss the financial terms, but the deals are getting bigger and bigger. (In 2017, Northwell Health signed a naming-rights deal for the Jones Beach amphitheater reported at $3 million for three years with a two-year option.) The categories that we’ve been focusing on like credit unions have become so competitive that it drives the price up. The media and sponsorship division at Live Nation is the highest-margin business within the company. We’re very fortunate to have a receptive audience and a great sales team that’s out there banging on doors on a regular basis with a lot of success.

How are you using sister company Ticketmaster’s deep database to help sell naming rights for amphitheaters?
It’s something that locally we’re just starting to touch the surface. We’ve got the world’s largest fan database, and, like I said before, we essentially own the journey from tickets to the seat to reliving the experience. We have a lot of information and what we’re trying to do now is figure out how best to deliver it to add value to our partners. It’s a work in progress.

Considering amphitheaters are a seasonal business, how does it work with term length and activation? As an outsider, it appears some of these naming-rights deals are recycled with greater frequency than typical agreements for sports and entertainment facilities.
We are not accepting deals that aren’t at least five years and preferably 10 years. We’re striving to sign longer-term deals, and I can think of three in the past two years that are 10 years in length. That’s the ultimate goal. We don’t want to confuse the public; we want to have long-term relationships with our partners. For the most part, our renewal rates have been very high. In many cases, (the name changed) because one bank, for instance, is being acquired. In Boston this past year, Blue Hills Bank, which had their name on our venue for a number of years, was acquired by Rockland Trust, hence the name change. 

What are the core categories for naming rights, and have you looked at emerging categories such as financial services technology?
The credit union business is very competitive and they’re always looking to provide perks for their members. In the last five years, we’ve done five naming-rights deals in that space. Banking as a whole is very strong for us and we have 10 of those deals at the amphitheater level. Casinos are strong as well, and health care is getting stronger. What’s interesting is when you look at these categories, they’re all a local focus. There is no such thing as a national credit union, for example, and we find that they’re really primed for naming rights.

From a technology standpoint, we really haven’t cracked the code yet. The most recent one was Nikon in digital imaging (at Jones Beach), but we know that it’s taken a huge hit as a result of the iPhone. We did speak to SoFi and they’re a sponsor now of our Bottle Rock festival in Northern California, and we spoke with Fiserv when we were looking to replace Verizon in Alpharetta, Ga. (Ameris Bank took over naming rights.) I don’t have a strong answer, simply because we’ve had great success with our bread-and-butter categories. Most of our buildings have naming rights and we have good relationships with those brands.

Some amphitheaters have been around for 30 to 40 years and concertgoers still call them by their original names, such as Deer Creek in Indianapolis, Walnut Creek in Raleigh, N.C., and Jones Beach. How do you fight that battle to give your naming-rights partners exposure and convince them that it makes sense to sign these deals?
The best way is through our media properties. We’ve got 100-plus properties across mobile, social and online and 80 million monthly unique (views) through Live Nation, Ticketmaster, Setlist.fm and Bandsintown. We’re giving brands more ways to connect with the audience, whether it be through fan insight and targeting or proximity marketing. The more that we promote them online outside of the building, the more we help them fight that battle.

What are some examples of creative activations for naming-rights partners at your amphitheaters?
We’re working with a banking partner currently where they have asked us to develop a menu of calendar disrupting events and experiences for high net worth individuals. (As of late November, specific details had not been announced). One concept is called Front Row, which is essentially storytelling with an artist and an intimate performance where they discuss their greatest influences. We’ve also come up with a program called A List Access, which is sound check parties and stage viewing access and helicopter entry to bring guests to the venue. Another one is Music Lesson, where we bring individuals into the venue early to learn what it’s like to stage a show and meet the general manager, sound and lighting technicians, the production manager and maybe even the artists. The one thing we’ve really made a concerted effort to do is work with brands to make sure they are working to improve the fan experience. 

Hollywood Casino in St. Louis has its name on the amphitheater in that market, and you can see the casino from the venue. For the 2019 season, we provided ticket buyers the option of purchasing a round-trip shuttle pass for $10. The pass is sold on livenation.com, which includes transportation to and from the venue on show days. What we’re doing is (promoting) the casino business with increased foot traffic. In Nashville, we have an interesting concert series partner at Ascend Amphitheater. Journeys, the footwear retailer, built a custom branded viewing deck where they can use it to reward employees and guests in their home market for a great experience at the show. We are really trying to encourage our partners to think outside the box, and we love when they give us an opportunity to sit at the table and brainstorm ideas.

Where do you see things headed in the future?
We’ve had a great run at Live Nation with double-digit growth nationally and locally at our venues, and it’s an exciting time to be part of the company. The thing that’s terrific about the business of “live” is the fact that it can’t be replicated. There is nothing like the intensity of being at a show. The average Live Nation fan is going to no more than two shows at best a year, so every show is their Super Bowl and gives our partners a real opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way. It’s got to be mutually beneficial. Our partners have to show fans what’s in it for them in exchange for their time, money and attention. We’re bullish on the future of the business. 

This story originally appeared in VenuesNow.