Guitar maker partners with studio to extend brand

HOLLYWOOD — In a rare move for the music-related company, Gibson Guitar Corp. has partnered with Universal Studios and House of Blues Concerts to rename the Universal Amphitheater and extend its brand via theme parks and eventually filmed entertainment.

The Universal City concert venue will become known as the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal CityWalk in the first step in the 10-year deal between the guitarmaker and the studio. Gibson is paying in the low seven figures annually, and the deal could generate as much as $15 million for U.

Universal owns the real estate; House of Blues Concerts, which is currently for sale, owns the booking rights to the venue.

Move marks the first time Gibson has purchased naming rights to a building. Most concert and sports venues go after companies with deep pockets far beyond those of musical instrument manufacturers.

“Naming rights alone would not have made it for us,” said Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman-CEO of Gibson Guitar. “It’s the partnership — being able to deal in the venue and CityWalk and eventually extend to other places where Universal has a footprint. From a marketing perspective, this should provide opportunities that would not necessarily be available to us.”

Gibson, based in Nashville, welcomed the deal as a forum for production partnerships with major television and media entities, philanthropic activities and a presence at major film premieres. Gibson is an active supporter of the Grammy Foundation, MusiCares, Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rainforest Alliance and others.

Onsite enhancements

Gibson Guitar will participate in onsite enhancements to the amphitheater, including an exclusive new skybox in the balcony and additional visuals for the Universal Studios Backlot tram tour. Lighting treatments and guitar silhouettes are also planned to complement the outdoor atmosphere.

The marketing plan with House of Blues includes broadcast, print, Internet, ticketing, publicity, promotional support and concert promotions.

“While money was on a list of factors, we weren’t looking for the highest bidder,” said the exec who assembled the deal, Syd Smith, VP of business development for Universal Studios Partnerships. “We have a gigantic portfolio, and we look to link brands in a logical way. Gibson was on a list of companies that fit the bill and after they expressed interest in the project we immediately shortened the list.”

It is unclear exactly how Gibson may be involved in U’s film or television entities, but Juszkiewicz sees “huge potential.” Smith said Gibson could be involved in film development.

Calculated risk

Musical instrument makers generally market their goods to the 7% of the population that is interested in playing music. Juszkiewicz believes that a music venue will have a high percentage of people who are either musicians or connected in some way to musicians. “Financially it’s a risk,” he said. “But if you’re a pioneer, you take a chance that you’ll be shot and fail.”

Gibson began branching into live music communities about two years ago, when it opened live venues in Nashville and Memphis that combined viewable manufacturing operations with the usual amenities of a club. Both are still in their “pilot stages,” but Juszkiewicz believes a similar operation could work at CityWalk.

The amphitheater was built in 1972 as U’s entry into the live music biz, which was sold to House of Blues about six years ago. Universal Studios Partnerships oversees strategic corporate alliances and all theatrical and homevid promotions for Universal Studios, striking deals with Volkswagen, MasterCard, Kodak and others.

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