Springsteen Says Walmart Deal Was a 'Mistake'

But Will Put-down Hurt Retailer's Successful Music Program?

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Bruce Springsteen performs at the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show.
Bruce Springsteen performs at the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show. Credit: AP

BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- In the end, Walmart may not have entirely gotten its money's worth for a Bruce Springsteen exclusive. The Boss dissed the giant retailer in a New York Times interview just days before his Super Bowl performance.

Mr. Springsteen called his exclusive deal with Walmart a "mistake" deep into the jump of a lengthy profile in Sunday's New York Times. In doing so, he may have slightly tarnished a remarkable run of success for the retailer in establishing itself as a pop-culture maven through blockbuster exclusives with bands such as the Eagles and AC/DC in recent years.

For Walmart, exclusively signing Bruce Springsteen to sell his latest greatest-hits album last year was in one respect its biggest music coup yet, even if it will never surpass those other deals featuring original recordings in sales. But with the deal, a retailer that's tried for years to soften up resistance from lefty urbanites through better public relations and well-publicized green initiatives seemingly landed an endorsement by music's "working-class hero" and Barack Obama's foremost campaign troubadour.

Hasty decision
That implied endorsement, if it ever existed, got yanked abruptly. Mr. Springsteen told The Times he made the deal too hastily. "Given [Walmart's] labor history, it was something that if we'd thought about it a little longer, we'd have done something different," he was quoted as saying.

Mr. Springsteen got blowback from fans and portions of the blogosphere over the deal. The Times cited one online critic who said the deal "kind of goes against everything [Mr. Springsteen] stands for."

Mr. Springsteen's disavowal of the deal quickly made its way into blogs and, per Google News, more than 400 news reports the day before and after Mr. Springsteen took the stage at the Super Bowl. It was lodged near the top of listings of searches on "Springsteen" during and after the game.

Walmart long ago established itself as a force in country music through deals such as an exclusive relationship with Garth Brooks, but it began flexing its muscles in pop and rock via deals with the Eagles, AC/DC and Journey in recent years. In the case of the Eagles, not even band veteran Don Henley's long-standing liberal agenda stood in the way.

Meaning for future deals
Mr. Springsteen's seller's remorse, however, raises the question of whether Walmart will find it tougher to strike future exclusives with pop and rock musicians who are frequently left of center. Clearly Walmart doesn't believe so.

"Millions of Springsteen fans have counted on Walmart over the years to deliver their music into their lives, and we will continue to offer those fans works like this 'Greatest Hits' exclusive and others at unbeatable prices," a Walmart spokeswoman said in an e-mail statement. "Walmart is always working with labels and artists on opportunities to provide each month value-added or unique compilations, such as this, which we agreed to sell exclusively for 90 days."

And while Mr. Springsteen probably couldn't have picked a worse time, from Walmart's perspective, to disavow his deal, it's not one many people -- even bloggers -- took notice of.

While Nielsen Online's BlogPulse showed a big spike in mentions of Mr. Springsteen related to the Super Bowl yesterday -- with references in 0.2% of blogs -- mentions of Mr. Springsteen combined with Walmart registered hardly a blip at 0.0012%.

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