Where Are All the Sponsors? Republican National Convention Diary, Day 0

Media Guy Simon Dumenco Reports From Cleveland

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The logo of Republican National Convention sponsor AT&T is projected on the side of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during a fireworks display in Cleveland.
The logo of Republican National Convention sponsor AT&T is projected on the side of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during a fireworks display in Cleveland.  Credit: Simon Dumenco

In downtown Cleveland, where the Republican National Convention is being held this week, one thing you won't see is the Trump-Pence logo that was unveiled on Friday. Widely mocked for its perfunctory graphic design and penetrative positioning of the "T" in Trump and the "P" in Pence, the logo was quietly retired over the weekend. Political veteran and CNN commentator David Axelrod noticed it was MIA from a Trump-Pence press conference held on Saturday in New York:

In its place is a simplified logo, with TRUMP in bold blue and PENCE underneath it smaller red, with no funny business between any of the letters -- and though signage with the revised logo is being installed at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, where Republican delegates will convene starting at 1 p.m. Monday -- any sort of Trump-related signage is actually rather scarce in this city.

Cleveland is a Democratic stronghold. Back in 2012 PolitiFact examined Cuyahoga County Board of Elections data -- Cleveland is the county seat of Cuyahoga County -- and found that there were "18 total precincts in Cuyahoga County where [Mitt] Romney received no votes." With Cleveland's support, President Obama took Ohio (which is predominantly a red state outside of Cleveland) by a margin of 2%.

The most prominent signage I saw on Sunday (what I'm calling Day 0, since Monday is technically Day 1 of the RNC) was courtesy of two airplanes that circled the city towing banners. One banner "RESCUE UNBORN CHILDREN" and the other read "HILLARY FOR PRISON 2016."

A special edition of The Hill distributed at the Republican National Convention, as seen at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland on July 17, 2016.
A special edition of The Hill distributed at the Republican National Convention, as seen at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland on July 17, 2016. Credit: Simon Dumenco

As for RNC corporate-sponsor signage, well, that's a complicated story. As a Fortune post titled "Corporate sponsors flee the RNC" put it on Saturday, "Many of the blue-chip companies that both parties rely on to help pay for their quadrennial conventions have dramatically scaled back or canceled altogether their commitments to the GOP gathering this year, privately citing the reputational risk of associating with Trump."

Fortune called attention to a Politico post from Thursday titled "GOP Cleveland organizers beg [billionaire donor Sheldon] Adelson for $6 million" and subtitled "The GOP admits two dozen companies have pulled out because of Trump," as well as a follow-up Friday Politico post titled "GOP convention organizers apologize to Sheldon Adelson" and subtitled "A letter to the billionaire donor misrepresented how many corporations had bailed on pledge donations because of Trump."

As David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee put it in a prepared statement, "Some of what were referred to as [corporate-sponsor] pledges were actually expectations based on pledges made to previous conventions, while a handful had been withdrawn."

A welcome sign on Euclid Avenue greets Republican National Convention delegates and visitors in Cleveland.
A welcome sign on Euclid Avenue greets Republican National Convention delegates and visitors in Cleveland. Credit: Simon Dumenco

Regardless of the fine points of what the RNC hoped or expected to wring out of corporations, the fact is that the convention is facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall thanks to an inadequate lineup of corporate sponsors.

On the ground here in Cleveland, the corporate logo I've seen the most so far is that of AT&T, which appears in miniature several times on the lanyards that conventioneers loop around their necks to hold their credentials (AT&T is the "Official Provider [of] Communications, Video and Technology" for the RNC).

The AT&T logo was also projected on the side of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at the "Rock the Night" welcome party for delegates and the media held in Cleveland Sunday night. Meant to be more of a civic-pride moment (the party also took over the adjacent Great Lakes Science Center) than a partisan event, Rock the Night's major corporate sponsors included companies with Cleveland ties, such as power-management company Eaton (which relocated its operational headquarters from its namesake Cleveland tower to Beachwood, Ohio three years ago), Fifth Third Bank, FirstEnergy, Jones Day, KeyBank, the Cleveland Clinic, Ernst & Young and Huntington Bank.

"Eat, drink and party like a rockstar," the invite urged attendees, but, hilariously, event staff and media were given the same "Event Staff" pass along with a written rule: "Event staff/media is NOT permitted to eat at the food trucks or restaurant tents or drink from the event bars. We appreciate your cooperation." (Did the event organizers watch in disgust as reporters descended, locust-like, on party buffets and open bars in the past?)

I did indeed cooperate, abstaining from sampling fare from the Fire Truck Pizza Company, the Sweet Mobile Cupcakery, Betty's Bomb Ass Burgers truck and others. Unfed, I chit-chatted with delegates, including one who sighed and just said, "I wish [John] Kasich had run a stronger campaign" when I asked her how she felt about Trump. I also met plenty of slightly dazed-looking foreign journalists, including a Brazilian reporter now based in Washington, D.C., who was wryly complimented by a delegate in our conversational cluster: "It takes guts to move to America and go straight to our most corrupt city," he told the Rio de Janeiro native of his new life in D.C.

Inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the party was a study in contrasts between the attendees and the venue itself. Displays throughout the museum celebrated the legacies of iconic rock and pop stars, including noted non-conservatives John Lennon and Lady Gaga, while establishment Republicans in summer party wear (cocktail dresses for the women and khakis and blue blazers for many of the men) largely ignored the line-up of local bands on hand to play limp covers of songs including "Red Red Wine."

By the way, everybody I know who knows I'm in Cleveland keeps asking me "Do you feel safe?" Here I should note that I approached the party from the Huntington Convention Center, where large news organizations, including the Associated Press, have set up sprawling temporary headquarters, and where daily press conferences are taking place (including one early Sunday evening at which a Trump campaign official kept on referring to the RNC as "the Trump convention"). As I attempted to exit the convention center and walk over to the Rock the Night event, I and other pedestrians were blocked from proceeding by a phalanx of police officers in riot gear, including bulletproof vests. Protestors were assembling nearby, we were told, and for the moment our access to the Rock the Night grounds was being blocked.

Riot police on horseback assemble outside the Huntington Convention Center as protestors gather nearby on the eve of the Republican National Convention on July 17, 2016.
Riot police on horseback assemble outside the Huntington Convention Center as protestors gather nearby on the eve of the Republican National Convention on July 17, 2016. Credit: Simon Dumenco

Out of nowhere, seven police officers on horseback showed up on the lawn north of the convention center. After a few minutes of watching them, I approached and asked what was going on. They were waiting to hear if they'd be deployed, a friendly officer explained to me. (She let me pet her horse, too, as she explained that police horses come from different breeds and are "selected for their temperament.")

I ended up killing time by heading back into the convention center to recharge my phone. Eventually, the protesters (who I could not see from my vantage point at the convention center) apparently dispersed, and the street leading from the convention center to the Rock the Night grounds reopened. It took at least another hour of waiting in a blocks-long line to actually enter the party thanks to the fact that a mere three magnetometers, supplemented by a half dozen or so cops with hand wands, were set up to screen the thousands of party guests.

The event was an officially-sanctioned Secret Service event (attendees, including journalists, were vetted in advance), which meant that despite Ohio's open-carry law, party guests were not allowed to bring in weapons of any kind -- or any of more than 20 other prohibited items, including laser pointers, mace or pepper spray, selfie sticks, umbrellas and "drones or other unmanned aircraft systems."

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. He's reporting from both the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

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