Microsoft's name adorns Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live as of June 9.
Renaming Nokia Theater as Microsoft Theater has been in the works for months as technology nerds from the giant, multinational technology company met with AEG’s entertainment gurus in the long halls and green rooms of LA Live, the entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.
It became blatantly public yesterday (June 9) when the cranes lifted giant letters into place on the side of the 7,100-seat theater. The sponsorship also includes Microsoft Square, a 40,000-square-foot outdoor plaza, and will, in the near future, rebrand Club Nokia as well.
Cranes lift new signage for Microsoft Theater, Los Angeles, on Tuesday.
The sponsorship is an extension of the existing relationship between AEG and Nokia and now expires in 2018, a year later than originally scheduled. Financially, the deal is similar to that with Nokia, which Microsoft bought portions of in a $7.2-billion deal that closed last year.
Adam Sohn, senior director, communications group for Microsoft, explained that Microsoft purchased their devices business from Nokia – phones, tablets, supply chain and a little bit of their software. Nokia still has mapping and other network services. Nokia is based in Finland. He did not know if Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv is involved in Microsoft’s purchase and may become another title opportunity in the future.
Microsoft Theatre is a first-of-its-kind branding opportunity for Microsoft, though Sohn guessed the company would be getting a lot of inquiries now. “Our company is going through lots of transformation,” Sohn said of Microsoft. “We have a new CEO, new version of Windows, and a different approach to how we think about the brand, and the industry continues to change all around us. We’re more open to looking for ways to connect with our customers in the industries and communities where we already live and work.”
Microsoft’s intention in this title deal is to “bring its technology and brand to bear for cool experiences for fans,” Sohn said. “We’re even thinking about what do we do backstage for artists and writers in the green room? We are about personal empowerment and productivity. How do we provide great entertainment experiences? As we look in the fan-facing parts of the facilities, we look for cool ways to showcase and demonstrate our technologies.”
For instance, Microsoft will look at ways to give artists and crew more access to technology. “Artists and travelling staff are customers just like the people in the front of the house. These people show up in green room after green room, long hallway after long hallway. How can we look at that experience and say okay, it would be amazing if the following things happen?”
Microsoft has a history of working with folks in the entertainment industry, and “on the device side we have this amazing machine called Surface, which is part tablet, part laptop, mobile, touch friendly, with pin as an input device. Think about a set of people who are writing, music or spoken word or projects. We have the Surface Hub, 60-80 inch screen with sharing and communication apps keeping people in contact with family, other parts of their tour or business ventures. It’s about connecting with that community about what would be helpful, awesome,” Sohn said.
Lee Zeidman, president, Staples Center, LA Live and Microsoft Theater, added that AEG will be refurbishing Microsoft Theater as part of the rebranding. Of course, Microsoft colors will replace Nokia colors, but more than that, the two firms will share the cost of other major upgrades.
It will be a top to bottom renovation, Zeidman said. AEG will redo the lobbies, fix food and beverage queue lines, redo seats and carpeting, redo stage elements to make it more performer friendly and “add areas within the theater that will help us attract artists in a highly competitive Southern California marketplace.” AEG will upgrade eight of the 10 dressing rooms (headliner rooms are already done), add a game room for artists, and upgrade the crew catering room to make it more crew friendly.
The ability to close down the proscenium is also on the list. Microsoft Theater has the largest stage opening west of the Mississippi at 120 feet, Zeidman said. AEG will invest in scenic elements that will allow it to be more versatile, without having to bring in curtains all the time.
“We will spend a good low- to mid-seven figures, we’re pricing it right now,” Zeidman said. More robust WiFi is a given. Zeidman said more details would be forthcoming when they establish a timetable. Given its busy schedule, it will not be possible to shut Microsoft Theater down for renovation, so it will be phased in.
“We will have a press event when we start, midconstruction and then a bigger press event when renovations are complete. We will decide in the next two to three weeks,” Zeidman said.
He recalled that “when we first started negotiations for the Microsoft name, we all agreed we didn’t want to just put a new sign on there. We wanted to rebrand and refresh. Once we started looking at it, we agreed to use a combination of AEG funds and Microsoft funds moving forward.”
AEG is also hoping to benefit as a showcase for Microsoft’s new products going forward. “We hope we will become a breeding ground for Microsoft technology,” Zeidman said of the new partnership.
The deal is unique in that Microsoft is investing heavily in downtown Los Angeles, Zeidman said. It’s an L.A.-wide, L.A. Live initiative.
Todd Goldstein, chief revenue officer led the charge and Stew Heathcote, SVP, Global Partnerships, oversaw the account for AEG. “We thought the announcement was going to be made a month ago, but we had to get all the permits from Los Angeles to get the signs up there,” Zeidman said.
Sohn concurred. “We’ve been working together for awhile, but today is ta-da, let the world know. It’s really hard to roll that crane up and hang that sign without anyone noticing.”
This could be the beginning of a new sponsorship era for Microsoft. “Everything we learn working with the guys at AEG goes into the knowledge bank and we’ll see how we do with the people who attend events, how this helps our presence as a member of the community in L.A.
“We even look at how a company like AEG runs these venues. Are there things we can talk about in the operational arena where our stuff is helpful? We’re always looking for problems that technology can solve,” Sohn said.
Interviewed for this story: Adam Sohn, (425) 703-3276; Lee Zeidman, (213) 742-7255