Deal could come together in time for Feb. 26 ceremony

Hollywood & Highland owner CIM Group is actively pursuing a sponsor to rename the erstwhile Kodak Theater in time for the Feb. 26 Academy Awards ceremony. CIM has already lined up three suitors interested in branding the current home of the Oscars, Variety has learned.

Heading up the talks for CIM is Santa Monica-based naming rights and consulting firm Premier Partnerships, which is negotiating with marketers. CIM was approached by several interested companies immediately after Eastman Kodak first petitioned a bankruptcy court to void its naming-rights deal at the end of January, including Dell Computer, which at one point presented a proposal.

Though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not actively involved in the process, it does have the power to veto any sponsor it deems unacceptable. Organizers would prefer a brand with a connection to the film biz or upscale pedigree.

It wasn’t immediately clear which three companies were considering a sponsorship deal. Regular Oscar sponsors have included American Express, the Coca-Cola Co., Hyundai and JC Penney. Samsung is ponying up considerable coin around this year’s kudocast as it promotes its new line of smartphones.

All of those companies have increasingly turned to entertainment as a platform to spotlight their brands. And Coke — which has aggressively forged deals with exhibs to lock out rival Pepsi — already feels at home at the venue, given that Fox’s “American Idol,” which it sponsors, has taken place at the Kodak.

With just over a week to go before the Oscar ceremony, Kodak received court approval Wednesday to stop payments to CIM and have its name removed. The ruling came amid Kodak’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, which argued that its $3.6 million-per-year naming rights deal provided no further value to company creditors.

Though the judge’s subsequent ruling did not specify a time-frame for taking down Kodak’s signage, the decision threw the theater’s moniker into turmoil, as the majority of publicity and marketing materials for the Oscars have already been produced. However, should a new sponsor be found before this year’s ceremony, the Academy has waivers in place that will spare it from having to re-do any promotional materials that may carry the Kodak name.

Despite CIM having the advantage of a few interested brands, it’s unlikely that any potential sponsor will agree to anything approaching the 20-year, $72 million contract that Kodak originally signed in 2000 — during considerably brighter economic times, and with the kudocast locked in for the decade. But with the Academy exercising its contractual rights to shop for another venue, those conditions no longer exist.

Any deal would be considerably less lucrative without the Oscars, of course — though Downtown Los Angeles’ Nokia Live has expressed interest in luring the ceremony to the much larger theater, Academy president Tom Sherak has said multiple times that talks with CIM to stay at the current venue are ongoing.

Corporate sponsorship for CIM’s theater offers high local visibility and plenty of foot traffic. However, the glamorous sheen and international TV audience that association with the Oscars provides are the elements that will bring in deep corporate pockets, giving the Academy additional leverage in renegotiating.

Messages left with Premier were not immediately returned Thursday. Reps from the Coca-Cola Co., Hyundai and Samsung declined to comment on whether talks were taking place with CIM.

Premier’s past clients have included the Rose Bowl Stadium, San Diego U.’s sports facilities, Mammoth Mountain and New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

(Josh L. Dickey contributed to this report.)

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