Saying the Colorado Symphony Orchestra takes a progressive approach to sponsorship would be an understatement.

The CSO—which retooled its sponsorship strategy in 2012 to boost revenue and reach new audiences—has taken the initiative to a new high.

Looking to tap a new source of revenue, the symphony has created a cannabis-themed music series to access sponsorship dollars from growers, dispensaries and other companies in Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis industry.

Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series includes three “bring your own cannabis” events featuring performances by Colorado Symphony ensembles that culminates with a CSO concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13.

The chamber events will be held May 23, July 18 and Aug. 15 at the Space Gallery in Denver. Tickets to the events—which include food and drinks—cost $75.

The idea for the music series came from Jane West, founder of Edible Events Co., a Denver-based producer of cannabis-friendly events.

“The cannabis industry is just three months old in Colorado, and the industry wants to connect and support activities in the community,” said Jerry Kern, the Colorado Symphony’s CEO and chairman of the board.  

The burgeoning industry represents a potentially lucrative source for sponsorship dollars, he added, noting that the City of Denver generates roughly $700,000 a month on taxes from the industry.

“I would guess margins in this business are pretty good.”

The music series gives the CSO an opportunity to get a leg up on mainstream acceptance of the marijuana industry, he said.

“Cannabis is a legal activity for individuals to engage in and for commercial operators to serve. We think it will be a growing part of our community. Why should we penalize ourselves? This is a fast-growing industry that wants to support us.”

The CSO positions the music series as a platform for cannabis companies to build their brands, educate consumers and demonstrate community involvement. Benefits include exposure on event marketing collateral and on-site engagement.

Sponsors include The Farm and Gaia Plant-Based Medicine (dispensaries) and Ideal 420 Soil, the latter of which is presenting the gallery series. The CSO plans to sign additional sponsors of the series as well as a presenting sponsor of the Red Rocks concert.

While the symphony has received some complaints from individual supporters, it has not received any negative feedback from sponsors, said Kern, noting that some sponsors have applauded the program.   

“The overwhelming response has been positive. They think it’s a creative way for us to get ahead of the cannabis industry rather than sitting around waiting for the world to give its imprimatur.”

The symphony is hosting the events at off-site locations to give existing sponsors some distance from the cannabis-friendly program, said Elizabeth Frels, the CSO’s corporate development manager.

“We’re respectful of their brands, so we’re keeping Classically Cannabis completely separate and sponsored by cannabis-friendly companies. We made that distinction at the very beginning.”

The music series also helps the symphony reach a demographic that may not have previously considered classical music as an entertainment option, said Kern.

“Listening to classical music stoned is a great experience.”

Inside The CSO’s New Sponsorship Strategy
The symphony in 2012 restructured its sponsorship strategy by taking a marketing-driven approach to corporate partnerships.

“The old model for symphonies is that you relied on half of your revenue from ticket sales and the other half from contributed income from a coterie of wealthy supporters,” said Kern. “We decided to grow our relationship with the corporate community by returning value in exchange for their financial support.”

“Our approach to corporate partners is to say ‘what can we do for you?’”

As demonstrated by Classically Cannabis, the strategy has resulted in some nontraditional partnerships.

That includes creating an original composition for Arrow Electronics, Inc., a distributor of electronic components. The composition—dubbed Five Years Out—is based on the notes that the word Arrow represents on the musical scale.

More recently, the CSO this year created an original composition for the MLB Colorado Rockies. The team debuted the song—dubbed Take the Field—at its opening day game on April 4th.