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Mercedes-Benz To Sponsor U.S. Version Of Rock In Rio

New York Times, March 18, 2015

By Ben Sisario

For Mercedes-Benz, the decision to sponsor a pop festival came down to toilets, dirt and mud.

The carmaker, known for supporting elite sporting events like the Masters golf tournament and the United States Open, has been eager to join the growing world of music festivals. Big showcases like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Electric Zoo attract tens of thousands of brand-conscious young people — all potential customers.

But according to Stephanie Zimmer, the head of brand experiences marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, the company largely held off from joining with a festival until it found Rock in Rio USA. The American version of Brazil’s biggest pop festival, Rock in Rio, will open in Las Vegas over two weekends in May with a lineup heavy on mainstream acts like Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Sam Smith, No Doubt and Metallica.

“We looked, but there wasn’t anything that we felt personified the best-in-class customer experience that Mercedes-Benz values,” Ms. Zimmer said. Rock in Rio, she added, is “not your typical dust-and-dirt festival.”

Part of Rock in Rio’s appeal, Ms. Zimmer said, was its location: Rather than an open field lined with portable toilets, Rock in Rio is being built on 40 acres alongside the Las Vegas Strip at a cost of $25 million, paid by MGM Resorts International. It will have six stages, a Ferris wheel, a vendor village and what Roberto Medina, the festival’s irrepressible founder, promises will be a V.I.P. section to impress even the pickiest American high roller.

The space will also feature an elaborate underground infrastructure to convey electricity, water, data and beer — as well as pipes for sewage, allowing for the rare music festival luxury of actual toilets. “It’s an immersive, clean experience,” Ms. Zimmer said.

Rock in Rio, founded 30 years ago in Brazil and since expanded to Portugal and Spain, is new to the American market, and its arrival comes with some risk. It is being held only a few weeks after Coachella, the premier taste-making festival held just a few hours away in Southern California. So far, Rock in Rio has sold 56,000 weekend passes, split about evenly between the two weekends, May 8-9 and 15-16. The daily capacity is 85,000.

From the start, Mr. Medina has been an evangelist for corporate sponsorships. In Brazil, the festival covers about half its budget through an array of deals that invite corporate brands into the festival and also place Rock in Rio’s own logo on hundreds of products, including soda cans and cars.

“We see the brand as the principal artist of the festival,” Mr. Medina said, before catching himself and mentioning the musicians who perform as the primary artists.

For its American version, which will cost $75 million, the festival has so far raised $14 million through such deals, according to Mr. Medina. He and Ms. Zimmer declined to say how much was being paid by Mercedes-Benz, whose presence at Rock in Rio will include naming rights on a secondary stage as well as an amusement ride, the Iron Schöckl, which will transport passengers in a G-Class S.U.V. up and down a 44-degree slope.

The festival’s other sponsorships include Red Bull, Bacardi, Hennessy, Corona and Chilli Beans sunglasses. Live video of the festival — as well as Rock in Rio’s other events around the world — will be streamed to mainland China through a six-year deal with the Chinese service FansTang. Rock in Rio, which is half owned by the concert company SFX Entertainment, has a contract with MGM to present the festival in Las Vegas again in 2017 and 2019.

Like plenty of other marketers, Mercedes-Benz has looked to pop festivals as a way to reach young people on comfortable turf. SFX executives recently said they expected to sell $100 million in sponsorships this year. Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest concert promoter, had just over $300 million in sponsorships and advertising last year.

So far, Mercedes-Benz has made only a few moves into music. In 2013, the company spent $139 million on sponsorship around the world, with 82 percent going to sports, 11 percent to entertainment and just 2 percent to festivals, according to the trade publication IEG Sponsorship Report. Last year, the company put together a brief tour, Evolution, focusing on alternative acts and featuring the band Alabama Shakes.

Ms. Zimmer said that Mercedes-Benz would continue moving into music events — as long as they were not too dirty.

“We just want to make sure whoever is interacting with our brand has the best experience possible,” he said, “and sometimes being covered in mud isn’t that experience.”