If you've got a few hundred thousand dollars to spare annually and the desire to have an amphitheater bear your name, the City of Raleigh wants to make a deal. Last week, North Carolina's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission rejected a request by the city and local beer distributor Harris Wholesale to name the new $2.5 million, 5,500-capacity Raleigh Amphitheater and Festival Site for Bud Light.
The deal would have earned the city $1.5 million over the next five years; now, unless the amphitheater's management at Raleigh Convention Center can find a new sponsor, and fast, that burden might return to taxpayers.
"I thought it was admirable that we were trying to save taxpayers money," Raleigh Convention Center Director Roger Krupa said after the decision, "and I thought it was admirable that there were people worried about substance abuse."
The name would have set a precedent for the state, which strictly limits public alcohol advertising on the exterior of facilities that sell alcohol and, with Wednesday's decision, has yet to allow a public space to be named for a brand of alcoholic beverage.
"The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission is not here to condemn alcohol as an industry, but we are here to regulate the alcohol industry," said ABC Commission Chairman Jonathan Williams. "And it's a highly competitive industry. The dynamics of opening up this kind of competition in the advertising field would be difficult to contain."
And so the convention center remains in the difficult position of finding a sponsor with deep pockets in a struggling economy and nearly three weeks into the amphitheater's inaugural season. Krupa said they're on the trail: An hour after the ABC Commission delivered its decision, the city issued a press release—"City seeks other naming rights opportunities for downtown amphitheater"—in which Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker pledged that other sponsors were being pursued. Krupa said he returned immediately to his office last week after hearing the verdict and re-established connections with bygone bidders. A handful are interested in moving forward, Krupa said, though some aren't interested in the full $300,000 annual commitment.
"I got a quick response from one person, and he said, 'I'll give you X.' I said, 'Oh, no, no, we don't want that.' It was a fire sale number," Krupa explained, laughing. "I don't think we're interested in selling at a lesser number right now."
Krupa did seem flexible, though, refusing to rule out the idea of sponsorship split among several partners or, if no one secures the naming rights by next year, simply allowing a company to put their brand on a series, as Harris Wholesale did for Bud Light Presents Raleigh Downtown Live.
And Harris isn't out of the picture either, said Krupa. Though the beer distributor can't sponsor the entire venue per last week's decision, they will be involved with the amphitheater in some fashion. How, though, depends on who eventually emerges as the sponsor.
"Each company will want something in value. Will they want media value? Will they want presenter value? Do they want access to performers? Will they want seats? Will they want signage?" Krupa said, explaining that the city is willing to work with potential sponsors to satisfy them. "It depends on who the players are left at the table in the next few weeks."
Krupa said he's not anxious about the lack of sponsorship and that the ABC Commission's decision doesn't anger him. Seven people spoke against the potential sponsorship deal at last week's hearing, including three Raleigh high school students paid by Youth Empowerment Solutions, a statewide organization that opposes alcohol and tobacco advertising. Both Krupa and Assistant Director Doug Grissom attended the meeting, and more than 55 percent of about 1,600 respondents to a City of Raleigh survey said they supported the name. No one spoke on behalf of Raleigh Convention Center, though.
"Being a public body, it's hard for us to argue with another judiciary organization about what is right and wrong. That just seems inappropriate," says Krupa. "We simply put the ask in, and we were simply told, 'Nah, not a good idea."
If you saw Phoenix and The Love Language play Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park in Cary earlier this month, you might've noticed the chest-rattling bass during "Love Like a Sunset," the eight-minute epic by the French rockers. Though the venue's been consistently harangued for its town-enforced low decibel requirements since opening in 2001, the show was plenty loud.
Indeed, venue officials boosted the decibel limit from 92 at the mixing position to 95 for the Friday night concert, thanks to a provision approved by the Cary Town Council last November that allows concert promoters to boost the volume in the space for three shows each season. The town's cultural arts manager, Lyman Collins, said a similar boost had been granted for May's My Morning Jacket show, though that show generated fan and band complaints regarding low volume. The Phoenix concert generated no complaints from residents in the neighborhoods adjacent to the venue.
During the next year, Collins said, the venue will continue to evaluate and adjust its current sound system, a process that might include determining optimal placements for the amphitheater's speakers for specific categories of shows—whether they're rock, country or blues.
"Our goal is to have great sound in the venue for both the audience and the artist, while having as minimal an impact as possible on the neighborhood," said Collins. "We're going to continue to strive to figure out the best way to achieve that."