While sponsorship spending on performing arts venues, symphony orchestras and other types of arts organizations took a major hit during the Great Recession and the subsequent fallout in the automotive and financial services categories,  recent deal-making suggests the sector is quickly coming back to life.  

That spending is driven by the return of the automotive and banking industries as well as new activity by other categories.

Among recent deals, the AT&T Performing Arts Center this year has secured three new major sponsors: Capital One Bank, Reliant Energy and Southwest Airlines Co.

In addition, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center has signed TD Bank as title of the Oct. 15-21 James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival, while Carnegie Hall next month will announce a multiyear, estimated six-figure partnership with the Swatch Group and the company’s Breguet luxury timepiece brand.  

Breguet will activate the tie by installing a clock in the lobby of Carnegie Hall and posting a watch faceplate on www.CarnegieHall.org.

Despite the recent deals, total sponsorship spending on the arts continues to lag other property sectors. The primary reason: A reluctance by many organizations to move beyond charitable donations in favor of true marketing partnerships. 

“I’m constantly surprised by the number of arts organizations that don’t approach sponsorship as a marketing relationship. They continue to approach companies from the traditional development perspective,” said Jon Holman, president of The Holman Group, a sponsorship sales agency that specializes in the arts.

Holman, who brokered the deal between Breguet and Carnegie Hall, also represents the Houston Grand Opera, Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the San Francisco Symphony, among others. 

According to IEG SR, sponsorship spending on the arts is expected to total $892 million in 2012, up 2.6 percent from 2011. The year-over-year percentage increase lags every other property sector with the exception of fairs, festivals and annual events, a segment expected to grow 2.4 percent.   

So what are arts organizations doing to achieve sponsorship success? How are they taking their sponsorship sales efforts to the next level?

Below, IEG SR highlights four tips on selling sponsorship to the arts: 

Provide proprietary platforms. Following the lead of pro sports venues, some performing arts organizations are finding success from selling naming rights to concert halls, lounges and other on-site real estate.

Case in point: The AT&T Performing Arts Center used the strategy to secure Capital One Bank and Southwest Airlines.
 
The three-year-old multi-venue complex uses the strategy to provide access to key audience segments and support corporate marketing initiatives.

For example, Capital One Bank titles a member’s lounge at the Winspear Opera House to access passionate and professional arts patrons. The lounge is open to members that make an annual contribution of at least $500 to the organization.

“They were interested in getting the bank’s name out in front of commercial and personal banking customers,” said Steven Lange, AT&T Performing Arts Center’s sponsorship manager. 

The bank also will title a concert series for the 2012-2013 season, he added.

In a different twist, Southwest Airlines will title the Southwest Porch at Strauss Square, a hospitality area within the venue’s outdoor music amphitheater. The sponsorship replicates the airline’s title of the Southwest Porch at Bryant Park in New York City.

The Southwest Porch at Strauss Square features a branded lounge with ping pong and foosball tables and food service by Wolfgang Puck. The venue also will sell a Southwest-branded craft beer called Southwest Brew.

The AT&T Performing Arts Center initially pitched Southwest a sponsorship of a music series, but the airline brought up the idea of the Southwest Porch after learning about available inventory at the venue, said Lange.

The performing arts complex will open the Southwest Porch at Strauss Square on Sept. 19 with a concert by Citizen Cope.

Segment audience base. Some arts organizations have found success by providing access to specific audience segments.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art this year used the strategy to secure a partnership between Ford Division’s Lincoln brand and Muse Artwalk, an event for young professionals. Ford aligned with the organization to promote the all-new 2013 Lincoln MKZ.

The automaker leveraged the event with an on-site ride-and-drive program. To incent participation, Ford made a donation—beyond its sponsorship rights fee—to LACMA’s arts education fund for every test drive.

“It was an opportunity for Lincoln to reach a young, hip audience and start a viral buzz around the car,” said Holman, who sold the deal.

The event generated roughly 170 test drives, he added.

In addition to young professionals, LACMA also offers platforms targeted at other demographic groups. For example, the museum last year secured Gucci Group as the presenting sponsor of one of its annual fundraisers. The gala was chaired by Leonardo DiCaprio and drew a number of deep-pocketed Hollywood heavy hitters.

“We try to dissect audiences as much as possible to identify potential corporate partners,” said Holman.

Leverage endorsement deals. Although the number of endorsement deals among musicians and musical directors is significantly smaller than those with professional athletes and other types of celebrities, the partnerships can be used to open doors to potential sponsors.  

For example, the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2010 inked a partnership with Rolex following the arrival of musical director Gustavo Dudamel. The Venezuelan conductor and musician has an endorsement deal with the watch company.

The endorsement deal trumped an existing partnership between the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Breguet, said Holman, noting that Rolex received right of first refusal for the sponsorship as a result of its relationship with the conductor. The Homan Group brokered the initial deal between the Philharmonic and Breguet.

Provide added value. Like other types of properties, arts organizations should offer benefits that extend beyond terms of the contract.

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center this summer leveraged its role as the host of America’s Got Talent by creating an umbrella sponsorship package that included VIP seats at the shows and cosponsor of two concert series.

NJPAC offered the package to existing sponsors at a reduced price. The packages started at a minimum of $50,000 prior to the discount.

“We told them they are loyal partners and we want to provide favored pricing,” said Peter Hansen, NJPAC’s vice president of development.

Two sponsors took him up on the offer: Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and Berkeley College.

NJPAC also offers provides additional inventory gratis to build relations with new sponsors. For example, the arts venue this year gave Rémy Martin and Heineken additional benefits beyond their new sponsorship of the Sounds of the City free outdoor music series. Those included pouring rights during the TV broadcasts of America’s Got Talent and the Friday Night Live concert series.

“They were first-time sponsors, and we wanted to reward them and give them an incentive to renew,” said Hansen.

New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts takes a similar tack, an effort that has resulted in a roughly 85 percent to 90 percent sponsor retention rate.

For example, Lincoln Center’s sponsorship staff serves as a one-stop resource for sponsors that host client and employee meetings at the venue. The organization frequently provides the service beyond the terms of a contract.

“It’s not just ‘Here is the hall, here is catering’s phone number and thanks for the money. It’s being with them from the beginning of the event to the end of the event,” said Polly Rua, Lincoln Center’s senior director of corporate relations.

Lincoln Center’s sponsorship staff works with the venue’s union, catering and other departments to rectify any issues that might arise, she said.