NYC Theater news from JOE MASHER:
August 18, 2010
Best Buy Takes Its Brand to a Times Square Theater
By BEN SISARIO
Two months after Irving Plaza reclaimed its old name, another Manhattan concert space is being rechristened.
On Sept. 14 the Nokia Theater in Times Square, a 2,100-capacity room owned by the national concert promoter AEG Live, will become the Best Buy Theater. The terms of Best Buy’s contract with AEG for the naming rights on the space were not disclosed, but both parties called it a multiyear agreement.
When the Nokia opened in 2005, in the space formerly occupied by the Loews Astor Plaza movie theater, it had remarkable capital investment from AEG and was an unusual showcase for its title sponsor. Designed by David Rockwell, the architect behind several swank Nobu restaurants and W hotels, the theater cost $21 million, and Nokia used the lobby and corridors for stylish neon displays of its mobile phones.
As the Best Buy Theater, the space will get some acoustical upgrades as well as new high-definition screens and a lounge area with interactive displays of some of the consumer electronics the company sells. Best Buy, which is based in Richfield, Minn., and has 1,089 big-box stores in the United States, is also planning to step up its use as a promotion zone by hosting corporate events like media-drenched product introductions.
“If you’re going to shows, and you’re going to shows in Times Square, then you’re the kind of customer we want to build a relationship with,” Drew Panayiotou, Best Buy’s chief marketing officer of United States-based operations, said in an interview.
The theater will be Best Buy’s first foray into naming rights for any entertainment site, a spokeswoman said. But while major corporations have long been making such deals with amphitheaters and concert halls, those arrangements have become less common as companies struggle with the weak economy and reconsider the value of top-tier sponsorships, which can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to millions a year.
As a result, theaters that just a few years ago were named for blue-chip companies have now made deals with much smaller and more regional businesses. In June the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa, Fla., was renamed the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheater, after a local medical and legal referral service. Outside Denver, the former Fiddler’s Green Amphitheater (once also known as the Coors Amphitheater) is now called the Comfort Dental Amphitheater.
“A lot of the bigger sponsors have said, ‘We’re not sure there is as good a return on our investment there as it might be just to take lower-level sponsorship,’ ” said Jim Andrews, editorial director of IEG Sponsorship Report, a trade publication. “So the folks going out there trying to market naming rights were left either greatly reducing their prices or finding companies that were less sophisticated and newer to the marketplace.”
A spokeswoman for Nokia said it did not renew its deal for the Times Square theater partly because the company wanted to focus on “reaching customers where they consume content, online, as opposed to at a physical venue.” Nokia still has arrangements with AEG for two prominent spaces in Los Angeles, the 7,000-capacity Nokia Theater and the 2,400-capacity Club Nokia.
Naming-rights deals often rankle fans, who can become so inured to the revolving door of corporate sponsorship that they might never fully adopt a new name. But Mr. Panayiotou said that with Best Buy’s significance as one of the country’s leading music retailers, the deal makes more sense than most.
“A lot of times naming-rights deals are tougher for consumers to digest because there isn’t a natural connection between what happens there and the brand,” Mr. Panayiotou said. “In this case there is a great connection between our business and what happens there at the theater.”
“It will stick,” he added.