The past year has seen some of the UK’s biggest festivals and events forge new headline sponsorship deals with companies that thrived during the pandemic. Access explores how the festival sector is working with brand partners to not only support the events financially but enhance the experience while not alienating talent or ticket buyers.

After a tumultuous and financially destructive year for the live events industry, all sources of revenue are vital not least sponsorship and brand partnerships. The return of live events this year has come with flood of new major sponsorship deals, many of which are with companies that emerged and/or thrived during the pandemic.

It’s hard to recall a time when more festivals have been the subject of new naming rights partnerships. In May, Live Nation announced it had partnered with online used car marketplace Cinch for it to become the headline sponsor of no less than five of its festivals.

The multi-year deal has seen Cinch become the official headline sponsor of Latitude, Creamfields, TRNSMT, Isle of Wight Festival and Edinburgh Summer Sessions. The partnership marks the first time one brand has headlined across five Live Nation UK festivals.

Last month, the promoter announced it had struck a deal with rapid grocery delivery firm Zapp to become the headline sponsor of Wireless festival.

Meanwhile, AEG Europe has also been busy with brands old and new. In September it announced a headline sponsorship deal with Volvo that has seen its Eden Project concert series in Cornwall rebranded Eden Sessions presented by Volvo.

The return of AEG’s All Points East (APE) in August to Victoria Park in London saw the results of numerous new brand deals overseen by AEG Europe’s Global Partnerships division. They included an agreement with BMW UK, which launched and hosted the BMW Play Next Stage with Edith Bowman at the event. A stage mirroring the content of the BMW Play Next podcast, it featured an array of grassroots talent.

BMW also helped support sustainability at APE by supplying a fleet of BMW X5 plug-in hybrid vehicles for artist transport throughout the festival.

Another key new APE partner was Zapp, as the VIP naming rights partner. As well as having branded VIP areas it provided a convenience store and prize-filled vending machine onsite. Social media platform Hyprr secured the naming rights of the Hyprr Guest Area, and handled the music programming within it, while also giving away merchandise throughout the festival.

The Right Fit

The advantages of brand support at festivals are many but promoters have to find a careful balance between managing the demands and expectations of brands while ensuring all activations are in line with an event’s identity and the expectations of attendees and performers?

Live Nation UK president of marketing partnerships Jim Campling says that it in order for a brand partnership to work perfectly it is critical for brand teams to think like fans and ask themselves how they can add to the overall fan experience, what they can create that is unique, how they can reward fans for engaging with the brand and how they can make sure they’re remembered beyond the physical days in the festival fields.”

He says among the most important qualities the promoter looks for in a brand partner include audience relevance, it having clear objectives and an openness to communication: “We have extremely close working relationships with our partners and therefore having an ongoing open dialogue is incredibly important. As with most businesses, the road isn’t always smooth, so a spirit of openness and co-operation ensures we’re able to navigate any hurdles.”

“From logo approvals to brand activation builds to sustainability considerations, all elements of our partnerships are closely examined in collaboration with the festivals.”

Campling says that Live Nation works closely with individual festival teams to make sure the brand partnerships compliment the character of the event: “From logo approvals to brand activation builds to sustainability considerations, all elements of our partnerships are closely examined in collaboration with the festivals.”

AEG Europe Global Partnerships VP Will Dowdy says that at the heart of his team’s work is a focus on ensuring the brand and event synergy is as seamless as possible: “I don’t think anyone works harder than us to try and make sure that the activations have an authenticity and a real integration into the event. All Points East is a good example, it has a strong identity and if a brand looks out of place the fans won’t stand for it – they have got very high expectations.”

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Getting Active

Among the many advantages of working with major brands for event operators is the increased exposure their sponsor’s customer communications channels, such as social media, can bring – with exclusive pre-sale opportunities now a near standard aspect of the deals. Aside from the financial benefit and potential increase in ticket sales, on-site activations are a major focus.

Global brand experience agency Jack Morton has worked with some of the best-known brands in the world, creating unique events and activations as well as bringing brands to life at festivals. Its projects range from being responsible for London’s last official New Year’s firework display to creating fan zones for the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament. Among the many brands it has worked with at festival include Cadillac, Chevrolet and Google Play Music.

At the Panorama Festival in New York its work with Google Play Music involved creating a 30-foot cube, which displayed ever changing graphics that were created and influenced by the activity around it.

“It was a huge, beautiful block of videowalls,” says Jack Moron strategy director Caspar Mason. “AI learning meant it was responsive to the festival atmosphere around it. It could work out what people were saying on socials, what music was happening at the festival and so on to create reactive visuals. It was a great use of cutting-edge technology to create something that people won’t forget.”

At Live Nation’s events this Campling says Cinch went “above and beyond” to create activations that were “faff-free” experiences for attendees. in line with its brand slogan – The Faff Free Way To Buy & Sell Cars.

“The team worked to translate and channel the idea of faff-free to the festivalgoer experience onsite,” he says. “From providing unparalleled world-class activations with live bands and DJs, to amazing vantages of the main stages from their viewing platforms, to car giveaways at each festival, to chill out areas, to charging stations; Cinch struck the right balance of being additive to the festival experience while communicating their offering.”

Dowdy says that while often it is a case of working closely with a brand to ensure the activation is entirely complementary to an event, brands will often have a very strong idea that can work exceptionally well.

“We have worked with Coke Zero at BST Hyde Park, and they were with us as the soft drinks partner at APE this year with a really good activation. They built a retro games arcade in the general admission area. It was great fun and worked very well. They understand our events, and so for us it was just a matter of helping them tweak things as they designed and built it.”

Money Matters

No matter how event enhancing the activation, the prime motivation behind the brand partnerships for promoters is obviously the financial benefit, and there has rarely been a time when profit has been more important for the festival sector.

Campling is unwilling to provide specific details as to what percentage of a typical Live Nation festival’s revenue comes from brand partnerships, but he says it is a considerable contribution. Business is booming, and the promoter already has sponsorship commitments for 2022 “up double digits” from 2019.

Perhaps usurpingly, Dowdy would also rather not provide a figure but he says the contribution is absolutely crucial: “Along with the brand activations, the fun they bring, the colour and the marketing support, the financial investment helps us produce premium events and frankly helps us bring in the best artists.

“The bigger the event we do the larger proportion of event revenue is made up of partnership revenue.”

Pandemic impact

 During the pandemic, particularly the lockdown periods, new digital services emerged and existing ones thrived as a result of changes in consumer behaviour.

Campling says that now live events are back, young brands such as Cinch and Zapp are eager to bridge their online presence with the physical world to show new audiences who they are and what they stand for.

“They’re proving to be brilliant business models and a fascinating area for partnerships,” he says.

Mason is convinced brand activations at festivals, and the events themselves, will evolve dramatically in the coming years due to the expectations and desires of Generation Z attendees.

He says, “This is a new audience, an audience living in massive multiplatform multiplayer game environments who have spent lockdown experiencing live music digitally. Generation Z’s expectations, mixed with the behaviours we’ve learned in lockdown, are going to lead to the most profound changes in technology, staging and everything about festivals going forward.”