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Credit American Express Sponsorship For Kenny Chesney's Wildwood Concert

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 2012

Kenny Chesney's mega concert on the beach in Wildwood on Wednesday night was the 10th "unstaged" music concert sponsored by American Express Co. since 2010.

These gigs, which have teamed top artists with equally top-tier directors — filmmaker Jonathan Demme produced the live-stream of Chesney's performance on YouTube — are designed to give artists exposure during new-album release weeks, and give fans input through social media and tweeting to unlock a special encore at the live performance.

The free, 75-minute concert from the Jersey Shore, one day after the release of Chesney's new album Welcome to the Fishbowl, was billed as the largest outdoor concert ever on the beach in Wildwood — with more than 20,000 Chesney fans.

Anyone in the United States and many around the globe tuned in to watch the live-stream. American Express cardmembers could also download a free copy of Chesney's hit single "Come Over" at iTunes.

"The idea behind this is we've had an incredibly passionate and engaged cardmember base of music fans," said Deborah Curtis, American Express' vice president of entertainment and marketing sponsorships. "There's only a finite space to any venue. The live experience is so special. How do we transport that live experience to an at-home audience in a way that's really compelling and makes the at-home viewer feel like they are part of the experience."

American Express created the "unstaged" music series in partnership with Vevo and YouTube. The credit card company declined to disclose its investment in the series, which began with a performance by Arcade Fire and Terry Gilliam in August 2010. A concert last October by Coldplay and Anton Corbijn broke YouTube live-stream records.

American Express spent $40 million to $45 million on corporate sponsorships in 2011, ranking 26th among all U.S. sponsors, according to IEG, LLC in Chicago, which analyzes corporate sponsorship in sports, the arts, causes, and entertainment marketing.

The top U.S. corporate sponsor last year was PepsiCo Inc., which spent $340 million to $345 million, followed by Coca-Cola Co. ($265 million to $270 million), Anheuser-Busch InBev ($255 million to $260 million), Nike Inc. ($215 million to $220 million), and AT&T Inc. ($175 million to $180 million), IEG said.

Although sponsorships help publicize a company's name, "it definitely goes beyond that," said William Chipps, senior editor of IEG's sponsorship report. "The bottom line is consumers are more difficult to reach for companies, for marketers, nowadays. People aren't reading magazines, not watching TV, not listening to the radio in the way they used to digest those mediums," he said.

"We are seeing more companies turn to sponsorship to engage consumers. With a credit card company, the sponsorship hot button is obviously to engage consumers and reward them with special access, such as access to one-of-a kind events, or maybe access to ticket pre-sales, that kind of thing," Chipps said. It's about rewarding existing customers and attracting new ones.

Blockbuster sports deals account for 69 percent of all corporate sponsorships — think NFL, NCAA and NASCAR.

Entertainment as a category is second, including sponsorships for concert tours, theme parks, and branded entertainment partnerships, IEG said.

The global economy is causing corporate marketers to hold off on placing bigger bets "pending the outcome of solutions to the national debt problems and the U.S. presidential election," IEG said in a recent update. Sponsorship spending by North American companies grew 5.5 percent in 2011 to $18.11 billion.

Sports sponsorship spending grew 6.2 percent last year, making it the fastest-growing sector, just ahead of a 6 percent increase in spending for entertainment. Both are projected to grow 4.6 percent and 4 percent, respectively, this year, IEG said.

"The primary reason why sports has the lion's share is there are so many sports properties out there. They were first to the table selling sponsorships," Chipps said. "Sports teams have been selling sponsorship for decades. It could be pro sports leagues, pro sports teams, amateur sports organizations."

Entertainment events draw corporate sponsors because "of the audience a company wants to reach," he said.

"American Express has historically focused its sponsorship activity on entertainment-related events, be it music, film festivals, culinary events," Chipps said. "It might be a situation where a company likes the audience that those types of events attract. Maybe they have higher disposable income to spend. Also, sports might be locked up by their competitors."

Many companies sponsor music events. American Express says its series is special because it brings "a lot of unique elements to a digital audience. For us, it's about being uniquely American Express," Curtis said.

"Connecting a live audience and the artist to an at-home audience. The other element, we are bringing together a creative collaboration between the artist and a filmmaker."