Sponsors star on Broadway

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Corporate America is casting Broadway as the latest entertainment marketing stage.

Sponsorship of Broadway shows is nothing groundbreaking, but as attitudes toward commercialism slowly warm up newer marketing tactics are starting to share the spotlight. Theater naming rights, in-theater advertising, product placement and product integration are gaining greater interest from marketers.

"Broadway is a huge untapped entertainment platform," said Jan Svendsen, a former Ogilvy & Mather executive who now markets The League of American Theatres & Producers, an organization that helps Broadway market itself. Ms. Svendsen, director-marketing, communications and development added, "There will be more opportunities in the future. Product placement is not being leveraged."

The Great White Way is attracting more green from advertisers for several reasons. For one, they're reaching an audience that's well off. Serino Coyne, one of the dominant ad agencies along Broadway-itself snapped up by holding company Omnicom Group just a year ago-claims that 33% of Broadway goers earn more than $150,000.

The agency says that's a good value for sponsors since shows such as "Wicked," backed by Universal, cost upward of $14 million to produce. Broadway is also an efficient way to target women who make up 64% of the audience, according to Serino Coyne. And it's not strictly local: Nearly half, 49%, of the Broadway audience comes from U.S. cities outside of New York.

Visa USA has found that its sponsorship of Billy Joel's national tour of "Movin' Out" has helped it reach a wider audience. The company is helping build a national audience for the show via a TV commercial from Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide, New York.

George Perry, director-event and sponsorship marketing at Visa USA, said the company was looking for a showcase sponsorship. "How do we say this is big and exciting? One way was to attract not only theater goers but a whole new group of people, Billy Joel fans."

naming rights

Moreover, a number of theaters have followed sports arenas in selling naming rights: The American Airlines Theater, The Cadillac Winter Garden and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts among them. Currently, Serino Coyne is currently looking to replace Mercedes-Benz as a name sponsor of New York's Minskoff Theater.

The Broadway melody may not be music to everyone's ears, however. Phil Birsh, publisher of the theater handout Playbill, which has a circulation of 1.4 million per month, said he hears complaints from advertisers that Broadway audiences aren't big enough. He added that product-placement deals are tough given that the audience can't see in detail what's happening on stage.

Not all theater critics impressed. "I detest the naming of theaters and turning them into billboards for airlines and auto companies," said Linda Winer, theater critic at Newsday. "I have yet to refer to the American Airlines Theater, it is the Roundabout Theater on 42nd Street. It so debases the street."

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