As part of the summer farewell to the old and often maligned Shea stadium, scheduled for demolition at the end of the New York Mets' season, Billy Joel agreed to perform one last concert. For those who wanted a ticket to the event, which was sold out in a record 48 minutes, it helped to be a Citi Card holder.

Earlier this year, Citigroup's card division struck a multi-year alliance with Live Nation, a major concert promoter, and so received pre-sale access to Joel's "Last Play at Shea". (It seemed particularly fitting since the Mets' new home will be named Citi Field.) Though Citi is mum on the cost of the alliance, some analysts put it in the neighborhood of $100 million. The partnership makes Citi the official credit card sponsor of Live Nation, which is based in Beverly Hills, CA, and has a reported database of over 26 million fans.

Citi's 150 million card members have access to pre-sale of concerts, unique artist content, access to the House of Blues and backstage meet-and-greets, says evp of Citi Cards Terry O'Neil. Citi gets signing rights at a number of venues, right of first refusal on other concerts and artist-related promotions. Besides Joel's "Last Play at Shea", this summer Citi has been involved with the Police reunion tour and Madonna's world tour.

"First and foremost I think that the Live Nation marketing alliance delivers a unique, one-of-a-kind platform that, because it provides unprecedented access to our customers, it really does enable us to build that deeper relationship and essentially secure a more prominent position in the wallet," O'Neil says. He says the alliance has boosted customer membership and loyalty but declined to include hard data for competitive reasons.

Citi is not the only financial institution tapping a music-loving audience. Fifth Third Bank sponsored the Waterfront Independence Festival in Louisville, KY; BB&T sponsored the Savannah Music Festival; Washington Mutual puts on regular concerts at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden; and Chase Card Services, a division of JPMorgan Chase, co-sponsored Lenny Kravitz's tour along with Southwest Airlines.

Elsewhere, ING is sponsoring Marc Anthony's Juntos en Concierto tour, the largest Latino music series in the United States. ING is in the third year of a three-year deal with the Anthony-led tour. ING teamed with the salsa/pop superstar in order to better reach Hispanic consumers, says the financial services company's svp and head of brand marketing Tricia Conahan.

"We wanted to look for a non-traditional way to raise our awareness with Hispanic consumers and, more importantly, create more affinity among that great market and the ING brand," Conahan says. "I look at sponsorships as being a longer-term part of an effective marketing mix," she says. "We're fond of saying, advertising is like a sugar fix: you can drive a core message about a brand and boost your numbers very effectively, but you also see a very sharp drop-off in the affinity for your brand once you come out of the market. Sponsorships and community events operate very differently. They're the carbohydrates and protein of a meal. While they take a longer time to build the affinity for your brand and can be more difficult to manage, once you have connected with the prospective customer...that lasts a really long time."

Despite the popularity of such sponsorships, it's uncertain they will persist in tough economic times. "This is an industry that has taken it on the chin," says William Chipps, senior editor for Chicago-based sponsorship consultant IEG. "I talk to sponsorship sellers on a daily basis, they're telling me they have detected some belt tightening by retail banks."

According to IEG, total sponsorship spending by North American-based companies for music venues, festivals and tours will reach an estimated $1.04 billion this year, an increase of 4 percent from 2007 and up 75 percent over the past five years. (c) 2008 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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