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Ambassador Theatre Group aims to raise millions in new sponsorship strategy

Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), Britain’s biggest theatre company, has revealed that it aims to raise millions of pounds through sponsorship which could see famous venues such as the Duke of York’s Theatre being renamed with commercial partners.

ATG, which has a portfolio of 40 venues including historic landmark West End theatres, regional theatres, and the biggest theatre in the US, is looking for funds to help with the maintenance of its theatres, marketing, and commissioning of new shows.

The move comes as according to reports Exponent Private Equity, which owns a controlling stake in ATG, is looking at selling its stake in the theatre company.

Greg Dyke, executive chairman of ATG, told The Drum that the timing was now right to go to the market and that everything was on the table, whether it be naming rights, branding on ticketing or other marketing collateral which could be branded.

“I suppose because the scale of ATG has only been realised in the last three to four years and we are now saying what is the next market? What is the next opportunity?”

Naming rights for historic London venues, such as the Lyceum, would likely run into the millions of pounds even for a year.

Dyke said that he believed that “one brand could do the lot” pointing out that he would look at all offers.

Dyke said: “I think it is really interesting opportunity if a company can see beyond the traditional sponsorship area. And it is dealing with an experience that people love, like sport.”

The selling off of some of the most cherished names in theatre land could lead to a backlash, with purists turned off by the sound of, as an example, the Virgin Money Lyceum. But in sport, naming rights have proved largely successful.

Sir Howard Panter, founder of the theatre company rubbished such suggestions that theatre fans would be upset, pointing to the Royal Opera House which has worked with sponsors and saying that “nobody blinks an eye” when it happens in the US.

Panter said: “On the one hand we are trying to raise money to make theatre better and through such deals hopefully we can reach out to a broader audience who might not think about coming to the theatre.”

Globally, sponsorship of theatres is nothing new. Broadway’s Selwyn Theatre was reopened and renamed the American Airlines Theatre, in honour of its main sponsor, ut in the UK ATG would be breaking new ground if it were to give up some of its most-cherished names.

ATG, which also runs a successful ticketing business, has linked up with commercial partners, such as Gordon’s Gin and soft drinks brand Robinson in the past, but on a much smaller scale.

Theatre has a high number of upmarket and wealthy customers, so ATG is likely to be initially targeting financial services, and upmarket brands, though tobacco companies have been ruled out.

Should the endeavour prove successful, there is likely to be more money to add to ATG’s £12m marketing spend a year, which runs across TV, radio, digital, outdoor and direct mail.

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