Sponsorship deals have become an increasingly important revenue source for touring artists, a group of panelists agreed today (Nov. 15) at the Billboard Touring Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.

When Blackberry linked with John Mayer for his recent summer tour, the mobile company was looking for a way "to get down on the street with people and talk with them in a non-business environment," said Paul Kalbfleisch, VP of marketing for Research in Motion. By aligning itself with a music tour, he said, Blackberry was able to reach a younger demographic. "You can't get that in other forms of marketing," he added.

Noting that most companies typically require at least six to nine months lead time for a sponsorship deal, MAC Presents president Marcie Allen Cardwell said the Blackberry/Mayer deal came together in only five weeks. "Sometimes you have the luxury of a big lead time," she said, noting that some deals come together last minute.

What if an artist who is sponsored by one company performs at an event that
is sponsored by a different company - does this cause interference? "It depends on how much the venue wants the artist," said Cardwell. Along with Blackberry, this summer's Mayer tour was co-sponsored by AT&T. "When I first looked at the list of venues, I had no idea there were so many Verizon [Wireless Amphitheatres]," Kalbfleisch recalled. "So I thought we'd have a bit of a challenge, but we worked through it."

When negotiating sponsorship deals "the product has to fit the artist," said Vector Management's Ross Schilling, who manages Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. In some cases, however, "artist are whores," willing to sign any deal put before them, Schilling noted.

In the festival environment, C3 Presents (Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Festival) partner Charlie Jones explained that having corporate sponsors onsite can be beneficial to the ticket buyer. While trying to keep brand logos at its festivals to a minimum, concertgoers "are recognizing that sponsorships are important" because it can help lower the ticket price, Jones explained.