Arts Sponsorship to Make Tickets Affordable is a Hit

I appreciated Charles Isherwood’s article in this Sunday’s New York Times about the Time-Warner sponsorship of the Signature Theatre Company’s discount ticket initiative. Back in June, the New York-based media company renewed its deal with Signature for another four years years, allowing the theatre to maintain a relatively low price of $15 a ticket during the period for works by top playwrights such as August Wilson and John Guare. Actor Edward Norton approached Time Warner three years ago to pitch the concept. Norton, a Signature board member, has acted in its productions.

This is an exciting experiment with a sponsorship model that is attracting younger, more diverse audiences. It’s also an idea whose time has come. Face it, arts sponsorships will never resemble sports deals, nor should they. The marketing goals might be the same in an arts deal: visibility, hospitality, and relevance for your brand with the right audience. But the RenGen are driving demand–they are an arts-hungry audience. They want more and simply can’t afford it. So, by underwriting reduced tickets Time-Warner cashes in on this aspiration and delivers a lot of emotional value. Those wanting harder ROI–let’s look at what else the project delivers for Time-Warner. First, the program has earned a lot of good press in top media. Secondly, they get access to remarkable theater experiences for clients and employees with some very high profile talent. Finally, they stand out. Never has it been more important in the wash of marketing and and advertising to stand up and stand out.

I take issue with one point Mr. Isherwood makes. He thinks it is unlikely that similarly sweeping price-reducing ticket sponsorship will take hold, absent a frenzy of corporate largesse, “which is to say, absent hell freezing over.” Not so fast, I say. I have been touring the country talking about the RenGen, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the interest among executives looking to ride the wave of this phenomena. It won’t happen overnight, but I predict, the paltry 5% sponsorship of the arts that IEG reports every year (not sure how they derive their numbers, a little smokey) will see an increase. There is simply too much evidence piling up that cultural consumers are where the action is.