‘Sleep Country Amphitheater’: Concert venue gets in tune with industry trend

Naming rights sold for three years for undisclosed sum

By Michael Andersen, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Amphitheater sponsorships around the U.S.

• Pepsi Amphitheater at Liberty Park

(Erie, Pa.).

• Les Schwab Amphitheater (Bend, Ore.).

• Dunkin’ Donuts Amphitheater (Providence, R.I.).

• Sleep Train Amphitheater

(Wheatland, Calif.).

• Comfort Dental Amphitheater (Englewood, Colo.).

Maybe it’ll help them book R.E.M.?

Whatever the motivation, Clark County’s biggest music venue has a new name.

“It’s the ‘Sleep Country Amphitheater’ from here on out,” marketing manager Keevin Wagner said Tuesday.

For an undisclosed sum, the former “Amphitheater at Clark County” is now sponsored by Kent-based Sleep Country USA, the Northwest’s biggest mattress retailer.

The partnership with the Amphitheater’s operator, Quincunx, and its booking and marketing firm, Live Nation, will last three years.

The 18,000-seat, $40 million Amphitheater was built on the county-owned fairgrounds at private expense in 2002 by Quincunx, a New York City-based music venture.

Quincunx has since lost millions in operating costs alone, despite a handful of sellout shows that included Coldplay and Jimmy Buffett. Quincunx currently pays the county $300,000 in annual rent.

Big venues across the country have been fighting the same headwind — the fragmentation of the music business into smaller niches — and selling their naming rights, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, a concert industry magazine.

“Almost all of the outdoor amphitheaters have a naming sponsor,” Bongiovanni said. “Amphitheater at Clark County was one of the few that didn’t.”

Bongiovanni said he couldn’t guess how much Amphitheater-sized venues could make from such a deal, but doubted that it would exceed $100,000.

“I can tell you it’s substantially less than it was a few years ago,” Bongiovanni said.

‘Catchier’ name?

Wagner, the Amphitheater marketer, said the deal should be great for Sleep Country.

“Obviously, they’re going to be in all of our prints and in all of our advertisements and any time the Amphitheater is mentioned,” he said.

Sleep Country’s target buying market is women age 26 to 56, said Jennifer Ritchie, a spokeswoman for Sleep Country, but the company intended this sponsorship “to broaden its reach as a whole.”

Ritchie said she understood that Live Nation, the booker, suggested the partnership. Sleep Country’s corporate sibling, Sacramento-based Sleep Train, sponsors the Live Nation-owned Sleep Train Amphitheater outside Sacramento.

Kelly Sills, Clark County’s economic development manager, said he thought “Sleep Country Amphitheater” might be “a little catchier” than the old name.

“You take a name like the ‘Portland Garden’ — that sounds a little dull compared to the ‘Rose Garden,’ ” Sills said. “Whether it’s a good or poor brand is in the mind of the beholder. So I guess we’ll have to see what people think. It sounds pretty distinctive to me.”

Mixed reaction

So will the new name be good for the Amphitheater — or for its 430,000 landlords, the people of Clark County?

Commenters on columbian.com Tuesday didn’t seem to like the change.

“I just checked the schedule for the Amphitheater,” one quipped. “Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Maybe ‘Geritol Amphitheater’ is a better idea.”

“Wouldn’t ‘Clark County Amphitheater presented by Sleep Country USA’ have been a better option?” another suggested.

A few were more positive.

“Glad to see the Amphitheater get some corporate support,” wrote one. “It’s great to be able to watch national acts right here in little old Vancouver.”

“The name will take some getting used to,” the commenter added.

Bryan Deckert, general manager of the Doug Fir, a small music venue that opened in Portland in 2004, said he tends to think corporate sponsorships would undermine his own venue’s connection with its visitors.

“We give our customers the sanctity of the experience without being overstimulated,” Deckert said. “It’s about our reputation, which is more important. It’s a long-term revenue-building model.”

But the amount of money sponsorships could bring the Doug Fir — capacity 299 — is far less than the potential at big venues, said Bongiovanni, the Pollstar editor.

Anyway, Bongiovanni said, the name could be worse.

“It’s not as far out there as the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Rhode Island,” he said. “Live Nation just renamed their amphitheater in Bristow, Va., which is actually in suburban Washington, Jiffy Lube Live. Make your own joke on that one.”

Michael Andersen: 360-735-4508 or michael.andersen@columbian.com.

Columbian staff writer Tom Vogt contributed.