By JOHN T. WARD
After some 90 years as a lights-down sanctuary from the outside world, visitors to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre will be greeted by heavy pre- and post-show branding by the Asbury Park Press starting Tuesday.
According to an “exclusive” report about itself Monday, the Neptune-based Press will have its name in lights throughout the entertainment space: in front of the stage, on a drop-down screen, and on the walls before and after performances and during intermissions.
“You will be seeing an act that is performing on the Asbury Park Press Stage,” Basie CEO Adam Philipson is quoted as saying.
The theater, in the midst of a $20 million capital campaign to finance a planned massive expansion, did not disclose how much the Press paid for the naming rights to a stage that has hosted such luminaries as Cary Grant, Tony Bennett, James Brown and local stars Jon Stewart, Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen.
The branding blitz is slated to be unveiled prior to a concert by rockers Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo Tuesday night, the Press reported.
The deal presages more naming as the Monmouth Street icon, which opened in 1926 as the Carlton Theatre, closes in on its $20 million goal and the anticipated start of construction this summer, Philipson told redbankgreen Monday morning. Lobbies, bars and a new performance space are all possible branding opportunities, he said.
“It’s a lot of money we need to raise,” and corporate sponsorships are an integral part of reaching that goal, along with private donations and a shrinking pool of federal and state funds, Philipson said.
He noted that this is not the first branding intrusion into the theater: corporate partners as well as major donors are already identified on a movie screen before shows, he said. Nor is the Basie the first nonprofit venue to sell the name rights to its stage, he said.
“It’s sort of best-practices” of contemporary theater management, he said.
He said the branding would be “tastefully done,” adding that “the branding goes off during the show, so there’s no intrusion at all.”
As for the sense of a theater as a rare refuge from the bombardment of commercial messaging, Philipson said he doesn’t expect the branding to diminish the “magic” of the theatergoing experience.
“I don’t think there’s anything going to change,” he said. “It doesn’t take anything away from the experience.”
He noted that, even when there was netting overhead to protect customers from falling plaster prior to renovations in 2008, customers were still able to enjoy concerts and films.
After a string of name changes over the decades, the theater was rechristened in 1984 in honor of borough native William “Count” Basie, the jazz composer and bandleader who was born here in 1904.
The name of the theater itself is not likely to change in the lifetimes of today’s customers. Last August, the venue inked a deal with the trust that controls the Basie estate to enable it to call itself the Count Basie Theatre for 50 more years, with five 10-year extensions.
The Press, a longtime family-owned community publication serving Monmouth and Ocean counties, was acquired by the Virginia-based Gannett Company in 1997. Since then, Gannett has been on an an acquisition tear in New Jersey, gobbling up newspapers in New Brunswick, Woodbridge and Morristown.
Last year, the newspaper chain added the Record of Hackensack and related publications to its portfolio of more than 100 American newspapers, which include USAToday.