Sunday in the Park With AT&T

The corporate giant's sponsorship of Bayfront Amphitheater is great A if you're the type that likes a little brand name with your band name

AT&T's high-minded advertising will not include any "ugly balloons flying over the park or telephones all over the place," Katz continues. During the five years covered by the contract, the company will content itself with the prominent display of its name above the stage and on all tickets and promotional material, including radio, television, and newspaper ads for events. The amphitheater's ushers, too, will wear the AT&T logo. And on July 4 an AT&T marquee, to be built with $100,000 of the company's "grant," is scheduled to begin flashing its messages a few yards south of the sidewalk leading from Biscayne Boulevard to the amphitheater.

The contract also stipulates that AT&T will have no role in scheduling events. But it's certain to have substantial influence over the body that does. The 21 directors of the Bayfront management trust have agreed to let George Hartner know about events at least a month in advance, giving him time to consult his AT&T bosses and express any concern they might have about being associated with, say, a Porno for Pyros concert. "At the most we might cover the AT&T logos on stage," Hartner says. Censorship, he adds, is out of the question.

Still, the contract stipulates that AT&T would be authorized to do more than cover its globes if it finds its criteria for events are being violated on a "consistent basis," a clause that doesn't sit too well with Joe Podgor.

"No amount of money given generously by a corporation to an amphitheater should give that corporation even an indirect influence over events there," Podgor objects. "If AT&T wants to give money over a five-year period, that's great. But to threaten to take it back in the middle smacks less of philanthropy than of pure business. And that has no place in a public park."

Richard Singerman, an independent managing consultant, knows a lot about mixing business with public parks. The man who will be paid $162,500 for helping put the AT&T deal together was hired by the Bayfront trust two years ago to arrange corporate sponsorships for individual events at the amphitheater. "I said to them that, yes, I can find you small sponsors for small events but that my real expertise and my real interest lies in finding you a title sponsor for your amphitheater because I think it's eminently salable and it needs cash both to repair itself and to offer better and more shows," Singerman says, without employing any verbal commas. While Ira Katz points out that corporate sponsorship of public venues is a growing national trend, Singerman was convinced Bayfront would be unique. "We have a special situation here because most of the events are free and community-oriented," he says.

After members of the trust expressed interest in his vision, Singerman, who had just sold his interest in the Virginia Slims tennis tournament in New Orleans, floated the idea to his friends at Phillip Morris, which he describes as a "very classy company." The management trust quickly ruled out sponsorship by a cigarette or beer company, however. "The board of trustees didn't feel that cigarettes or Budweiser would lend themselves to a park visited by 2.5 million kids each year," Katz explains.

Undeterred, Singerman latched onto AT&T, and the trust approved an $800,000 price tag for the sponsorship. But when the deal made its way to the Miami City Commission, several members, led by J.L. Plummer, were determined that if the commission was going to sell out a piece of their park, they were going to get more money. "Plummer made it very clear that he thought this was a million-dollar deal," says AT&T's Hartner. "Usually in contract negotiations you start with a price and negotiate downward. Here it was the other way around."

Even though AT&T agreed to the money, two members of the commission, Miriam Alonso and Mayor Xavier Suarez, voted against the deal last year. Suarez says now that he was concerned about the "significant fee" paid to Singerman. "This is the first time I have seen such a large fee paid to a middleman," Suarez says. "I figured if the vote was negative, we could analyze it and see what rights the individual had to payment."

Having won his fee, Singerman is now looking for another project. "I'd like a crack at finding a corporate sponsor for Miami Arena," he says brightly.

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