James Grant, CEO of Involved Management, has been approached many times over the years by various brands wanting to get involved with his biggest client, arena-filling dance trio Above and Beyond. But it wasn’t until a January 2014 tweet from John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, that he gave a brand partnership serious consideration.
“A lot of brand conversations we have are, ‘You’re too late, we’re planning out for the year ahead or two years ahead,’ whereas T-Mobile was the opposite,” says Grant. Indeed, in the month leading up to Above & Beyond’s 36-city U.S. arena tour last fall, Legere and T-Mobile’s vice president of media, sponsorships and events Mike Belcher were able to put together a sponsorship package to support those dates, including free tickets to sell-out shows, backstage access and meet-and-greets. The band’s Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamäki also began chronicling the tour for a video diary series of “aftermovies,” which T-Mobile also agreed to sponsor as part of an ongoing partnership with the group. The first episode premieres today on Above & Beyond’s YouTube channel, Billboard can share exclusively.
The Above & Beyond partnership is only the latest program in a wide-ranging strategy that has positioned T-Mobile as one of the largest sponsors of electronic dance music in 2015. A multi-year deal to become SFX’s exclusive U.S. mobile provider, announced last April, has expanded to include three of SFX’s biggest U.S. festivals -- Mysteryland, Electric Zoo and TomorrowWorld -- as well as Life In Color’s arena tour and React Presents’ Spring Awakening and Summer Set festivals.
And earlier this month, T-Mobile announced an additional artist deal with Zedd, who gave away 250,000 downloads of an exclusive remix of current single “I Want You To Know” to fans via T-Mobile’s Facebook and Twitter pages. T-Mobile will also sponsor Zedd’s upcoming tour in support of second album True Colors, which the producer is expected to support on the road this fall. All in, EDM will be a key component of T-Mobile’s substantial marketing outlays, which in 2013 alone totaled $773 million in measured media spending, according to Kantar Media.
Why all the EDM activity? While T-Mobile may be the fourth-largest mobile carrier (trailing Verizon, AT&T and Sprint), its subscriber base is arguably the most active in terms of music consumption. Since debuting its streaming-music platform Music Freedom last June, which allows customers to stream music with no data charges, nearly 19 million people are now streaming an average of 134 million songs per day from 33 participating services including SoundCloud, Spotify and Pandora.
“Music is important to our customers, especially millennials, and EDM fans represent an entire generation who expect to get their music mobile first,” says Belcher. “And when you’ve got a very passionate fan base that’s been untapped as far as brands who’ve figured it out, it’s an area that’s a huge opportunity."
Belcher notes that both Music Freedom and T-Mobile’s presence at the 2014 Electric Zoo and TomorrowWorld festivals in the U.S. have already shown a measurable increase in the brand’s positive consideration, a key metric for customer conversion. Legere stated in January his intention for T-Mobile to surpass Sprint as the No. 3 mobile provider, having added 2.4 million new customers in fourth-quarter 2014 alone -- more than AT&T and Verizon combined during the same period.
That scrappy, entrepreneurial approach is what appealed most to Involved’s Grant. “They’re positioning themselves as the underdog punching above their weight, and we’ve also been fiercely independent,” he says. “[Above & Beyond] don’t have a major record deal, we’ve done everything ourselves to a certain point, aside from licensing to Ultra in America. Our tour is a massive undertaking, so when we had John Legere on the floor with his daughter [at the October Madison Square Garden show], it was great to see how cool and approachable he was. Afterwards, he sent me a lovely text saying it was one of the highlights of his year.”
T-Mobile’s estimated eight-figure commitment to EDM is the latest large-scale partnership to be announced in the category this year, following a 26-festival strategy inked between Smirnoff and Live Nation, 7Up’s recently renewed partnership with Tiesto and Insomniac (previously estimated to be as high as $30 million in spending) and SFX’s multi-year deal with MasterCard.
One program T-Mobile won’t be debuting any time soon, however, is Ultimate DJ, a planned TV series developed with SFX and Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment. Belcher says, “It was attractive to us as a tentpole property to showcase all of our activity in the EDM scene, but it ultimately didn’t work out.” Instead, T-Mobile will be doubling down in its association with SFX’s streaming platform Beatport, where the brand will host curated playlists and give away exclusive tickets to festivals and other experiences to customers. “We want to make sure our brand is wherever people are consuming music,” Belcher says.