Breakfast Show Sponsorship

In his first breakfast show on Virgin Radio this morning, Chris Evans is reported to have said:

“This show will be commercial free for at least the next 100 years…”

That would suggest that, at least as far as Evans is concerned, that his new breakfast show is not going to be taking ads for quite some time. I’d previously hypothesised that Wireless Group’s strategy of not running advertising spots during the show would last until perhaps August or September this year once the Q2 RAJAR figures had come in. At that point, the show would [probably] be posting decent numbers and advertisers would want to be there. At launch, the only numbers that Virgin has to trade on are so small, that giving up advertising is probably worth it from a marketing perspective.

You will recall that Sky is the sponsor of his new show, and interestingly, Sky is credited in the advertising surrounding the show – something that is normal for TV sponsorship, but rarer with radio sponsorship. (I once suggesting adding a small sponsor’s logo to an upcoming breakfast show outdoor campaign to show willing to the sponsor, and was considered a lunatic for even countenancing it!)

Sponsorship and promotions – or branded content – is a major part of overall commercial radio revenues. It accounted for £110m in 2017. As a result, a number of the leading UK commercial breakfast shows have sponsors – often more than one, if you also consider weather, traffic and travel, and sports sponsorship opportunities.

For example, Absolute Radio’s breakfast show has, for many years, been sponsored by Wickes, while Magic’s breakfast show is sponsored by Bensons for Beds.

As the poster displayed above shows, Virgin Radio’s marketing is going big on the benefits of being ad break free. The question then, is how is this sustainable?

Getting accurate sponsorship revenues is notoriously tricky, and precise figures tend to be closely guarded secrets. For a big ticket breakfast show with a sizeable audience, a sponsorship deal is likely to surpass £1m a year, although how much it surpasses that figure is going to be down to a lot of other things, not least of which is the size of the audience. Radio advertising executives will create detailed promotional plans that give advertising buyers details of how frequently their messaging will be heard, not only during the show itself, but in other dayparts, calculating the overall audience size. Recall too, that this new incarnation of Virgin Radio has launched a couple of sister services – Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled – that will also carry the show. Beyond all that, there will have been discussions about how deeply the sponsorship is integrated into the show, and how the sponsor might be involved in other promotional activity.

Interestingly, during Chris Evans’ first show, alongside a multitude of guests that included Cold Feet star Fay Ripley and musician Richard Ashcroft, Evans also had comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan who star in a new Sky One six-parter. They also had a sports guest on the phone, one Gary Neville, a football pundit who is contracted to Sky Sports.

These are all quite legitimate guests for any show one way or another, but Sky integration seems likely to feature heavily.

How much is Sky paying for all of this?

Who knows. It’s rumoured that Wireless Group were out pitching sponsorship of the Evans show at a very high number indeed. A particularly healthy seven figure fee – and certainly substantially more than any other UK commercial sponsorship opportunities. Of course, any good salesperson starts pitching high, so who knows at what price it was actually sold for. But the fact that it was being pitched also suggests that although Sky was until relatively recently a sister company of News UK (owner of Wireless Group and Virgin Radio), Sky’s advertising agency probably still took a close look at what the Evans show is truly worth.

It’s also worth noting that for many years, Sky has been a strong supporter of commercial radio, and sponsorship has been a key part of that support. It sponsored Absolute Radio’s breakfast for many years, and has also been a major sponsor on Talksport.

Sky is the third biggest sponsor in UK commercial radio spending an estimated £16.8m in the year to November 2018 according to Nielsen figures published by Radiocentre. That places it as the third biggest spender in UK radio, very slightly behind McDonald’s and BT. (Notably, those figures also show that it had decreased its spend substantially in the past year. But also note that estimating sponsorship spend is particularly tricky for companies like Nielsen.)

Is the show sustainable with Sky’s sponsorship alone, assuming Evans is getting at least as much as the BBC paid him for Radio 2, in addition to the costs incurred in poaching the rest his team from the BBC?

If Sky paid even close to that big rumoured fee that Virgin Radio was asking for, then possibly. But Virgin will still need to run adverts across the rest of the station, which may come as a rude awakening for listeners who carry on beyond 10.00am when Eddy Temple-Morris takes over. Indeed it’s notable that Virgin hasn’t [yet] announced any additional big-name talent signings.

The much anticipated marketing campaign has begun. There’s a TV ad, which is clever (even if it does bear a certain similarity to a classic 80s comedy film) and London is home to a number of outdoor posters for the show. However, it’s not yet clear how large those campaigns are, and that may take weeks or months to become clear.

Probably the biggest marketing initiative thus far has been today’s wraparound of The Sun.

As for the show itself?

I heard about 40 minutes of it on my work to work this morning. But it’s day one, and Chris Evans is a professional broadcaster who knows what he’s doing. It’s not remotely worth reviewing the first day of a breakfast show, because everyone is finding their feet and as Nik Goodman pointed out a couple of weeks ago on Trevor Dann’s Radio Today Roundtable Podcast, many of those new features will be quietly dropped in a few weeks once they’ve not worked, while other things will organically start up as the show finds its feet again. (That said, Radio Today reports that Evans has directly brought across a number of features from his Radio 2 show.)

Of course that review logic didn’t stop everyone doing just that with both Lauren Laverne’s and Zoe Ball’s first shows, and it won’t stop those reviews of Evans tomorrow.

[Update] See also a great blog from Phil Riley on the economics of running Virgin Radio – and indeed, commercial radio in general.

The [Insert Your Name Here] Arena

Earlier today I got an email advertising an upcoming gig with Sting and Paul Simon. Tickets are going on sale soon for the event taking place at the Phones 4U Arena.

Phones 4U Arena? That’s a new one to me. I realised pretty quickly that it probably wasn’t new, and was just a recent sponsorship deal. But as much as I scanned the email, there was no mention of a city.

It turns out it’s in Manchester. But then the arena in Manchester has been through a few names. It was called the NYNEX Arena for a while, then for quite a long time it was the Manchester Evening News, or MEN Arena. After that longterm deal expired, seemingly a sponsor couldn’t be found. So it became the Manchester Arena. And then last year, it became the Phones 4U Arena.

Just trips off the tongue.

The problem is that since every arena in the country is sponsored in some capacity and marketing folk just have to bite the bullet and work in the location as well as the sponsor. So how about “The Phones 4U Manchester Arena”? That’d be fine wouldn’t it? We’d all know where it was.

And this isn’t just some kind of southern bias. In London we have Wembley Arena. Originally it was actually a swimming pool for the 1934 Empire Games. But from 1978 until earlier this year it was Wembley Arena. Given that it sits right outside Wembley Stadium, that was fine. But now it has a sponsor and is known as the SSE Arena. It really needs to be called the SSE Wembley Arena, but some marketing person won’t do that because the know the average visitor will just drop the “SSE” and carry on calling it “Wembley Arena”. Well I have news. They’re going to call it Wembley Arena anyway, because it’s the arena right outside Wembley Stadium.

I was confused by SSE because I was sure that was the name of something in Glasgow.

It is. There they have the SSE Hydro, which although sounding like a strangely sponsored spa to this Sassanach, is actually a brand new arena. It just shares sponsorship because SSE no doubt wants to “own” music venues (that’s the sort of language marketing people use about these sorts of things).

In the meantime, you might go to a gig at the O2. You probably mean the dome. The millennium place. The North Greenwich Arena as it was known during the Olympics (and which rival telecoms outfit EE still sometimes calls it). But not to be confused with the O2 Academy Brixton (aka Brixton Academy), the O2 Academy Islington (Wasn’t that the Carling Academy?) or the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire (aka the Shepherd’s Bush Empire), or one of a dozen or so other Academies or ABCs up and down the country also called the O2.

Perhaps your gig of choice is in Hammersmith. Originally the Gaumont Palace, it became the Hammersmith Odeon, then Labbatt’s Apollo, the Carling Apollo Hammersmith, the HMV Apollo Hammersmith, the Eventim Apollo, and for quite a lot of time the Hammersmith Apollo. Eventim Apollo is the current name, because Eventim means such a lot to UK consumers (they’re a German ticketing company).

Anyway, however much I may dislike naming rights, I understand it’s part of the venue industry. But please try to include the location of the venue in your fancy new name. Because otherwise I may dismiss your gig as being irrelevant to me because it’s in a distant city when in fact it’s just up the road (although in Wembley’s case, it can be both in the same city and distant).