Clear Channel’s first-ever IHeartRadio Jingle Ball tour, which kicked off Dec. 2 in Dallas, has turned its annual holiday pop concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden into a national touring franchise. Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Enrique Iglesias, Paramore, Pitbull, Austin Mahone and Jason Derulo are among the acts playing many if not all of the stops on the 12-date tour. Just don’t call Clear Channel a concert promoter.
“We focus on booking the best possible artists and creating the best possible environment for our fans,” says John Sykes, Clear Channel’s president of entertainment enterprises. “We really rely on Live Nation and AEG to help us on the ground in those cities to promote the shows. We really seem them as partners, in the same way I’m sure they don’t want to get into the radio business or digital platform business.”
Jingle Balls have been happening in other markets since the flagship began in New York 1995, including Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Sacramento. But the decision to turn them into a formal tour has been a discussion ever since Bob Pittman, a seasoned media veteran and co-founder of MTV, joined Clear Channel as chairman in 2010, and fellow Viacom vet Sykes was appointed in 2011. “We’ve been talking a lot over the last few years about how we could aggregate the power of our brands,” Sykes said, “And we figured we could replicate the Jingle Ball model in New York and take it to other major cities across the country. And if we have all these amazing artists together, why couldn’t we make it a television show?”
The CW will air a two-hour special on the tour Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. EST, compiling highlights from the tour’s entirety, particularly the New York tour stop, which is this Friday (Dec. 13). “Jingle Ball is a show a lot of our listeners hear about, but very few actually get to see in person,” says Tom Poleman, Clear Channel’s president of national programming. It’s part of a long-term deal with The CW to air multiple TV specials throughout the year, including the IHeartRadio Pool Party in Miami, IHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas and a series of album release parties that in 2013 included Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and One Direction.
Like any major arena tour, each Jingle Ball will share production assets including a turntable stage that will allow acts to play on one half while the next one sets up backstage on the other, for seamless transitions between songs. “We want to deliver the same production value and overall experience at Madison Square Garden to all our other markets,” says Darren Pfeffer, Clear Channel’s VP of music and entertainment marketing. “And with a tour like this, some artists come to the table with different arks. We want to make it a fair playing field and make sure everyone’s happy on the tour.”
Also onboard are a series of sponsors, including national partners Chase, The CW, Macy’s and Toyota, and regional sponsors like T-Mobile (Los Angeles), Aeropostale (New York) and Dunkin Donuts, Samsung and Sears. Chase and The CW will be featured at each stop through spots on the Jumbotron, branded rows of seats from Chase and meet-and-greets and sound check experiences for their customers in all 12 cities. “Also, Toyota will feature its safe-driving simulator in eight markets, while Macy’s will have venue signage and host winners of its Black Friday [contests] in seven markets,” says Greg Glenday, president of Clear Channel Connections. The brands have also helped promote the tour on-air and through IHeartRadio’s digital properties to make their sponsorships multi-platform (and multi-million in terms of spend.)
The tour arrives on the heels of Clear Channel’s first IHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles, which opened in October to complement the theater in New York, which opened in 2009 to host intimate concerts with artists for on-air, online and, recently, televised events as part of the company’s expanded deal with The CW.
Poleman books the tour and the theater appearances alongside programming leads John Ivey, Sharon Dastur and Marissa Morris, in collaboration with local-market programming directors. Though Clear Channel has increased power and leverage as a booking agent, he insists the company’s role hasn’t changed. “I don’t look at it as we’re getting into the concert business,” Poleman says. “We’re using our platform to showcase our aritsts in an interesting, fun way.”