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Issue date: March 10, 2000

Lycos bids for Shoreline label Lycos bids for Shoreline label (March 10, 2000)

Amphitheater name would change if deal is accepted by city

By Kate Wakerly

Will Shoreline Amphitheatre concert-goers find themselves patronizing a renamed "Lycos Amphitheater at Mountain View" this season, or won't they?

The city council wrestled with that question at a study session Tuesday night, then voted by a slim 4-3 majority to ask city staff to work to see if an agreement on renaming the amphitheatre, for a price, is feasible in time for the new concert season's opening.

City staff will be working with SFX/Bill Graham Presents to determine if they can arrive at an agreement on renaming the amphitheatre for SFX/BGP's partner, Lycos, for a 10-year period beginning with this season.

The proposed agreement would then go to the council for a vote, at the earliest possible meeting. If it is not possible to develop an agreement within the next several weeks, the council also wants to hear from staff that the project is a no-go. And council members emphasized that an opportunity for public comment on the name change would be essential, with a "mayor's town hall meeting" suggested as one way to get public testimony.

A similar proposal to rename the amphitheatre for Yahoo was turned down by the council a year ago.

Nick Clainos, president of SFX/BGP, presented the new proposal at the sparsely attended study session, explaining the benefits of the three-way partnership involving the entertainment organization, Lycos and the city. The city would receive added gross receipts revenue, and would have the unusual opportunity of being able to withdraw the name change at the end of the 2000 concert season, allowing the name go back to Shoreline Amphitheatre.

"I don't know of anywhere in the country where a city has been given the opportunity to try this and see what citizens think," Clainos said.

To sweeten the deal, the partners are offering to contribute a minimum of $130,000 to local nonprofit agencies. Representatives of Lycos, a 5-year-old company headquartered in Massachusetts with 150 employees in Mountain View, stressed the company's desire to be a good corporate citizen and contribute to the local community.

"From a corporate perspective, our focus is children and safety," noted Jim Hoenscheid, director of brand marketing. Other Lycos representatives stressed the company's internship programs and employees' volunteering in schools.

Except for the $130,000 contribution for nonprofits, no other figures have been made public by SFX/BGP on what additional revenue Mountain View would receive for selling the amphitheatre name, noted Linda Forsberg, MV deputy city manager.

Under the current lease, Mountain View receives a percentage of gross receipts from each season at the amphitheatre, which was built on city land. Last year, that revenue amounted to $612,000, and it totaled $642,000 the previous year, said Forsberg.

Clainos had appeared before the council last November to talk about the changing economics of the live entertainment industry and the competitive market in which the local amphitheatre operates.

"There was concern that the industry is changing, and that commercialization of the name is one way to generate the revenue they need to stay competitive and keep the amphitheatre viable," Forsberg said.

In the interim, SFX/BGP found interest from Lycos, an Internet search engine company, in partnering for the amphitheatre naming. "Lycos is not just a corporate sponsor but truly embraces the city of Mountain View. They are committed to being part of the community," noted Vester Law, SFX/BGP's vice president of marketing.

Across the country, there has been a growing trend of commercial sponsorship of amphitheatres, including 3Com Park, Network Associates Coliseum, and Pacific Bell Park in the Bay Area, and others such as Staples Center in Los Angeles and American Airlines Center in Boston.

The council's reaction to the latest proposal was mixed, with several members especially troubled by the speed at which a decision would have to be made to be a viable deal for this concert season. "I would like to look at it, but I don't think we can make the decision tonight," noted Councilman Ralph Faravelli, who had received many phone calls from constituents when the proposal arose.

Councilman Mario Ambra suggested waiting a year to allow more time for consideration. "Maybe the name change is worth more than what's on the table -- maybe we should shop it," he said.

Councilman Mike Kasperzak was more enthusiastic. "It's an intriguing idea and can benefit the community. We have an opportunity to try it and see how it works. It's worth pursuing."

"What does protect the community's interests? If we would be benefiting and helping a now-local company to be involved, I would like to consider it," offered Vice Mayor Nancy Noe. "Our nonprofits are struggling for funds, and we have declining sales tax revenue." Noe cited projects that could benefit from the funds, including a proposed child care center.

Councilwoman Mary Lou Zoglin also struggled with the issue of community benefits. "I'm opposed to the commercialization of everything, but I agree with Vice Mayor Noe. I'm not opposed to exploring it."

But Councilwoman Sally Lieber said she had no interest in devoting staff time to the proposal, and was troubled by the idea of linking a sale of the amphitheatre name with the promised donation to nonprofits.

"I'm convinced this is not the right thing to do. What if this was extended to all uses -- if something was not right, you could make it right," she said. For instance, if a development was not compatible with the neighborhood, the developer could put money into a child care center, she speculated. "This would set a bad precedent."

In response to her question to Lycos about their current philanthropic activities in Mountain View, the company representatives did not have information available at the meeting. "I find these sudden changes in community involvement surprising," Lieber said.

Mayor Rosemary Stasek was even more blunt. "I'm not for sale. If you asked Lycos marketing people about the value of a 10-year brand identity, they'd say it was priceless," she said, noting that Shoreline Amphitheatre has built up that identity.

"Lycos may be around for the 10 years (of the proposed agreement), but I find that highly unlikely," Stasek said. "I appreciate the offer of a one-year evaluation, but my experience is that it would be impossible to get out of it legally and technically. It's impossible to go back once you take the money."

She added, "HP and SGI have poured millions into this community and we haven't named anything after them." Regarding community involvement, she told Lycos "you should do it because it's the right thing for your business."

Responding to the concern about getting out of the name-change after the first year, SFX/BGP's Clainos assured the council, "there are no problems if you don't want to continue with the name. There is no recourse on our part -- it's over. I can guarantee you."

He said the name change tends to be an emotional issue. "But people lose that after a while because the benefits are material."

Clainos said he didn't see any benefits in delaying a decision for a year. "I don't know what anyone would gain. I don't think this offer would be here a year from now."

Councilman Kasperzak said the issue revolved around "the sanctity of the name of 'Shoreline.'" But he didn't think the amphitheatre's name was crucial to concert-goers decisions. "I don't think the name has much to do with where people are going."

Voting to ask staff to pursue the name change proposal were Vice Mayor Noe and members Faravelli, Zoglin and Kasperzak, with Mayor Stasek and members Lieber and Ambra opposed.

There was general agreement on the council that public comment was especially important for this issue, and a town hall meeting hosted by the city, or a meeting hosted by SFX/BGP are possibilities, though no dates have been set.

The next regular city council meeting is March 28, and a report to the council on the proposal may be ready by then or by the following meeting.


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