ATG plans to sell off theatre naming rights

London's Lyceum Theatre, one of the West End venues operated by ATG.
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The Ambassador Theatre Group has revealed that it is looking into selling the naming rights to some of its historic London and regional venues.

The move comes as part of a push from the UK’s largest theatre operator to secure sponsorship deals with commercial brands, which could also see the company launch an Orange Wednesday-style deal for free theatre tickets.

ATG, which has 39 venues within its portfolio, is looking for partnerships that will stretch across the organisation. On Broadway, renaming deals have generated millions of pounds and some have lasted for more than a decade.

ATG holds leases on 10 venues in the West End including the Duke of York’s Theatre, the Piccadilly Theatre and Lyceum Theatre, as well as others in the regions. It has the freehold on the Apollo Victoria and four venues outside London, and manages the remaining theatres in its portfolio.

Although half of these venues are listed buildings, this would not prevent the theatres from being renamed. Consent would only need to be granted for a change in the signage to ensure it did not detract from the building’s heritage, according to national advisory body the Theatres Trust.

Pat Westwell, ATG’s marketing director, said the organisation would deal with any potential interest in naming rights on a case-by-case basis.

When asked how the group could secure this agreement for venues that it does not hold the freehold for, Westwell said ATG would speak with stakeholders.

She said: “If there was a particular brand interested in naming rights, then we would have to look at that and then potentially be in discussion with other stakeholders. But there has been no decision around renaming theatres.”

She added it was an “exploration exercise” and ATG wanted to hear from brands about what type of sponsorship deal they were interested in, rather than dictating the type of partnership. Westwell said the organisation hoped to begin talks about this and other sponsorship deals in the next few months.

Mhora Samuel, director of the Theatres Trust, said that renaming a venue should be considered “very carefully”. She said: “We are custodians of these buildings and the ownership is with the audience, not necessarily with the commercial owners. If you change the name, what impact does that have on relationships that audiences have had for years?”

She added: “Historically it’s not uncommon to see names of theatres changing that reflect a change of ownership, but when names have been changed for this reason they were intended to be significant statements surrounding the theatre’s identity and ownership – ie making big statements about the theatre’s own brand, not shorter term sponsor or investor associations.”

Another type of partnership ATG said it would be interested in is one similar to the Orange Wednesday scheme. This is run by mobile phone network Orange and cinemas across the UK and allows Orange customers to obtain an additional free ticket when purchasing a ticket for a screening on a Wednesday night.

ATG said it would also look at working with brands that could provide discounted tickets to audiences – similar to the National Theatre’s Travelex season, which offers £12 tickets to select shows throughout the year.

“We hope they [audiences] wouldn’t see it as selling out. Hopefully it’s more of a question of growing up and moving with the times,” said Westwell.

She added: “We are looking for brands that would be compatible with our own values, that would be able to work with us in ways to give value back to customers. Sports and music-related events are pretty established in this field so hopefully it is an exciting opportunity to explore a new market in theatre.”

Examples of commercial brands re-naming venues

  • In 2000, American Airlines sponsored the main auditorium at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York for around $8.5 million over a period of 10 years. Formerly the Selwyn Theatre, the space is now known as the American Airlines Theatre after the contract was renewed in 2010 for a further three years.
  • In 2005, it was announced the Millennium Dome in London would be renamed The O2 Arena from 2007 after the mobile phone company bought the naming rights to the centre. The deal was reported to be worth around £6 million a year.
  • In 2011, Newcastle United Football Club changed the name of its stadium to the Sports Direct Arena after the founder of the sports brand, Mike Ashley, bought the football club. It was intended to showcase the opportunity for other brands to purchase the naming rights of the stadium but proved controversial. After fans objected, a sponsor - wonga.com - bought the naming rights for a reported £6 million over four and a half years and returned the stadium to its original name St James’ Park instead of branding it with its own.


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