Business community miffed about festival naming rights

Andrea Gunn
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Meryl Stuart of SRO Entertainment, the promoter behind the Freshwater Suzuki Salmon Festival concert, came to Grand Falls-Windsor last week to address growing concerns about the new name of the show. — Photo by Andrea Gunn/Transcontinental Media

The Salmon Festival has, since its inception, been an extremely lucrative business opportunity for the Exploits region.

And those opportunities have only increased since the town partnered with promoters SRO Entertainment last year to obtain bigger crowd-drawing acts like Kiss and Aerosmith.

But some members of the business community are upset the concert is no longer called the Exploits Valley Salmon Festival Concert, but the Freshwater Suzuki Salmon Festival Concert.

The town and the promoter are being criticized by local businesses now that the area’s largest tourist attraction officially bears the name of a St. John’s car dealership.

Several businesspeople had approached SRO and the town with their concerns during the months since the name was changed to reflect Suzuki’s sponsorship. They wanted to know why local businesses were not contacted first for naming rights.

On Thursday, SRO Entertainment’s Meryl Stuart came to Grand Falls-Windsor to speak to the business community at a luncheon hosted by the Exploits Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Stuart explained how his company got involved with the Salmon Festival during a time when its popularity was waning, and decided that bringing in larger acts might be a viable solution.

But, he said, big acts cost big bucks, and those big bucks need to be paid before tickets even go on sale.

“The risk factor to do a show (like this) is huge,” said Stuart. “Because the population is spread out over such a large area, in order for the festival in Grand Falls-Windsor to be successful you can’t have mediocre bands. Someone who lives six hours away is not going to travel anywhere to see Trooper or April Wine. You need something that’s going to explode.”

Stuart said in order to ensure the concert is a continuing success, which will in turn benefit the local economy, Grand Falls-Windsor needs to see itself as the host town for a provincewide event.

“We need to convince people we’re doing this for the province of Newfoundland — from St. John’s to Port Aux Basques to St. Anthony.”

Stuart said part of that is opening up the festival for sponsors from coast to coast, which is why when Freshwater Suzuki made an offer for the naming rights, SRO quickly jumped on board.

Jason Thistle, owner of Grand Toyota in Grand Falls-Windsor, a dealership only metres away from where the concert will be held, was quick to grill Stuart on how they chose who would get the naming rights, and why local businesses were not contacted.

Thistle said he wouldn’t have been upset if the opportunity was presented but refused, but is bothered by the fact he wasn’t told about the option.

He said SRO and the town missed a great opportunity in not communicating with the Chamber of Commerce about sponsorship opportunities prior to making the decision.

Stuart responded by saying he’s not from the region, so the logic was to take the offer when it was proposed. He also said SRO did, in fact, contact some local businesses, mainly those that had supported the festival in the past.

He also said any interested party could have contacted him or the town directly.

“We didn’t know exactly where to reach,” said Stuart. “(In this region), we didn’t have anybody that wanted to take the name that would be willing to put out the kind of money that we felt that type of advertising would warrant. … If we missed someone, and someone is out there, then we apologize.”

Stuart said any business interested in sponsorship next year, large or small, is encouraged to contact him directly or through the town — as contacting every single businesses in the area is not practical.

“Our door is always open,” he said.

In an interview after the luncheon, Thistle said the town is more responsible than the promoter for the naming blunder, and said it should have been more diligent in communicating with local businesses about opportunities.

“I think the town was just so anxious to wash their hands of the festival and the concert (to) get away from that financial liability, that they just left a lot of the finer points out and, in the process, overlooked the business community and the naming rights,” said Thistle.

He added that Thursday’s meeting was more of a benefit to SRO than any other party, and expects a “bidding war” for naming rights next year.

“I don’t know if (Stuart) did anything for the members here today, but it certainly increased the value of his promotion,” said Thistle.

Although he didn’t attend Thursday’s event, Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins responded to criticisms of the town’s involvement.

“We’ve been having the Salmon Festival here for the last 27 years. It’s not like it’s a total surprise that we’re having this event,” he said. “Up until last year we were losing money on this event, so we had to look for other opportunities. We’ve entered into a contract with SRO. Part of SRO’s responsibility is mitigating some of the risk, and part of that is looking for sponsorship.”

Hawkins added the town had even posted on its website that anyone interested in being a sponsor could get in contact and it would connect them with the appropriate parties.

“I think we’ve had 11 responses so far, and all 11 responses have been (from businesses) outside of Grand Falls-Windsor.”

Although the name of the Freshwater Suzuki Salmon Festival Concert is being contested, one thing isn’t — the immense benefits of the concert to the local economy.

Scott Kenny, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he’s pleased Stuart was able to come to town to speak with the business community, and that a connection is made for businesses interested in sponsoring next year.

“I think this concert is a tremendous thing, bringing 25,000 people will be a huge economic boost to the region and I think we should be extremely happy this Newfoundland event is happening here in Grand Falls-Windsor,” said Kenny.


The Advertser

Organizations: Exploits Regional Chamber of Commerce.Stuart, Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, Port Aux Basques St. Anthony

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Recent comments

  • other side of the pond
    July 02, 2012 - 17:49

    Didn't SRO screw the Salmon Festival back in 2007 or there abouts? Puzzling that this company would win a bid to seek the entertainment for this festival again?! We on this side of the pond learn from our mistakes! "Fool me once, shame on You. Fool me twice, shame on Me!!"

  • Voice of Reason
    June 30, 2012 - 19:33

    The early bird gets the worm... If other companies were such great supporters of Salmon Fest, then they should've stepped up to the plate earlier. This whining is not a good ad. It must be a big problem to have others seeing the value and potential in your area, and put their money where their mouths are before you do.

  • Copes
    June 27, 2012 - 09:11

    If the concern is that local businesses didn't get first opportunity to sponsor the event, than I can understand their argument, and would assume that the promoters will approach the sponsorship differently next year. However, if the issue, as indicated in the third paragraph, is that the event is no longer called the "Exploit Valley Salmon Festival", than locals need to determine what is more important for them. Is it naming the festival after your town, or bringing people to your town to experience the festival? If it is the later, which is substantially better for local business, than sacrifices must be made. Its the nature of the real world. Kiss and Aerosmith aren't free, and a corporate sponsor isn't always a bad thing.

  • Ukonr
    June 26, 2012 - 20:17

    David, Newfoundland is not the one looking for free government money - look to Quebec for that or the territories. And speaking of spit in your eye - Canada (and people like you) have been spitting in Newfoundland's eye since 1949.

  • Jeremiah
    June 26, 2012 - 10:33

    "Mediocre", you must be kidding. Instead you go and get a bunch of over the hill, wrinkled up, washed up seniors. This guy a music critic?

  • intheknow
    June 26, 2012 - 09:34

    David. I see from your comment that you didn't actually bother to read the article. There was no mention of having government sponosr the concert. The story dealt with the fact that some local businesses could have come on board but felt there was no openess or transparency to the "naming" process. Given the reality of the content, your comment looks ridiculous.

  • Nicole
    June 26, 2012 - 09:20

    People need to wake up and realize that this is the real world. You have to accept money from sponsors to keep the event going, and to do that, you have to show your appreciation. Every organization has to do it at some point, depending on the scale of sponsorship. Stop complaining and start showing your appreciation for the money, publicity, and the artists you're able to bring to the province. Get over it.

  • David
    June 26, 2012 - 08:40

    And the resentment of money continues in Newfoundland...everything should be funded with "free" government money here in the land of lollipops and gum drops from heaven. Oh, and as a thank you to Freshwater Suzuki for its financial support, here's spit in your eye!

    • Mammy
      June 26, 2012 - 14:30

      David...Dear...are you the same David who commented he thinks all RCMP should come to NL for a six-week rotation so they can deal with more driving drunks and more driving violations...etc? Is that you? If not, I apologize in advance and retract my comment. But if so, honey, they have planes, boats, and a (government-funded, mind you) road and ferry that can take you off this dismal (seemingly, according to you) island, for ever more. So go child, go. Free world. No one stopping you.

    • Linus
      June 26, 2012 - 14:59

      I'm sure where ever he ended up, the local population would fail to measure up to his lofty standards. It must be tough life when everyone is beneath you.