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Citigroup To Become Sponsor Of NBC ‘Today’ Show Concert Series

New York Times, October 07, 2015

By Ben Sisario

On Monday morning, viewers may notice a change to one of the “Today” show’s most familiar features. With a performance by Selena Gomez, the NBC program’s live-music series — sponsored by Toyota for the last 12 years — will be rechristened with the name of a new corporate patron, becoming the Citi Concert Series.

The series, which in agreeable weather takes place outdoors on Rockefeller Plaza, will have a redesigned stage that will let fans get closer to the performers, as well as a range of online tie-ins. Citigroup, which has a multiyear deal with NBCUniversal to sponsor the series, will have special branded viewing areas for its customers — and will even use a nearby bank branch, on the corner of West 48th Street, to entertain a few lucky customers before the shows.

For Citi, the “Today” show partnership continues what has become an extensive music sponsorship program that includes ticketing deals for more than half of the top 100 tours each year and elaborately staged V.I.P. programs for concerts by the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Katy Perry and other stars.

As with any pop culture sponsorship program, Citi is hoping that its association with stars — and in particular its ability to deliver memorable experiences for fans, like backstage access and prime seats — will lead over the long term to greater customer loyalty.

“If somebody is using their Citi card for their entertainment spend,” said Ralph Andretta, the company’s head of North America branded cards, “our belief is that they will use it for other types of spending.”

The “Today” show deal indicates how vital social media has become for marketers and media outlets alike. In addition to the Citi branding that will be visible to television viewers, the concerts will include social-media feeds from NBC and Citi on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. There will also be online-only content and a “social fan cam” — a way to gather audience reactions online and broadcast them from the performance.

Financial terms of Citi’s deal with NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, were not disclosed.

“This new partnership is a natural expression of NBCU’s commitment to a total audience approach,” said Mike Rosen, NBCUniversal’s executive vice president for advertising sales for news and Hispanic groups.

Citi’s choice of music, and its embrace of digital platforms, have let the company distinguish its marketing from that of other financial services companies, which compete aggressively for sports deals, said Jim Andrews, a senior vice president of IEG, a sponsorship research and valuation firm.

“There are so many banks just fighting it out in sports,” Mr. Andrews said. “They’ve taken a smart approach that has helped them rise above the clutter.”

Citi’s sponsorship of music and live entertainment was minimal a decade ago but began to ramp up in 2007 when the company became Live Nation Entertainment’s official credit card partner. Last year Citi sold tickets to more than 6,000 music events and worked with some 1,400 artists. It helped create backstage lounges like the one for Billy Joel’s shows at Madison Square Garden with New York décor inspired by Mr. Joel’s songs.

Citi’s relationships with artists have extended to the point where the company has now supported projects outside music, like new restaurants.

“Music is a powerful connector,” said Jennifer Breithaupt, Citi’s global head of entertainment marketing and the driving force behind its entertainment sponsorship, “and we believe that access to unforgettable live entertainment creates enduring memories for the customer and differentiates the Citi brand.”