Opry Entertainment Group Makes Investment in Whiskey Riff Lifestyle Brand
"They attract a younger demographic, and this gives us another way to connect our brands and the artists we support with younger fans," says one OEG exec.
Opry Entertainment Group (OEG) has made a minority investment in country music lifestyle brand Whiskey Riff in an effort to draw a younger audience to its properties.
OEG, which counts the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, WSM Radio and the Blake Shelton-inspired Ole Red slate of restaurants/music venues among its portfolio, plans to use the alignment with Whiskey Riff to reach a younger demographic, attract new audiences to its brands, develop a stronger digital presence and further support emerging artists.
“They have created a really compelling brand, one that has built an incredibly loyal following,” says Mark Fioravanti, president and CEO of Ryman Hospitality Properties of Whiskey Riff. “They attract a younger demographic, and this gives us another way to connect our brands and the artists we support with younger fans.”
Fioravanti declined to comment on the specific percentage invested in Whiskey Riff or if OEG plans to increase its ownership stake in Whiskey Riff in the future.
Created by Steve Gazibara and Wes Langeler in 2015, Whiskey Riff has become a destination website for consumer country music news and content, as well as for outdoors and lifestyle content that resonates with the country music audience.
Across the Whiskey Riff brand umbrella as a whole, including Whiskey Riff social media accounts as well as @RIFFOutdoors, @WhiskeyRiffShop and @WhiskeyRiffRaff, the company says the sites have collectively drawn over 3.3 million social media followers. Over half of Whiskey Riff viewers are between the ages of 18-44.
Gazibara tells Billboard of launching Whiskey Riff, “I just thought, ‘If you are a college kid sitting in class, you don’t have a place to go to get a playlist, a podcast, a funny story, an outdoors thing, music stories and maybe a funny t-shirt if you want to get it for a concert.’”
“We share a certain segment of fans with Opry Entertainment, but we also have different fans in certain capacities,” Langeler adds. “The Opry does a great job of promoting rising artists that are independent and then they also bring on seasoned veterans, [Country Music] Hall of Fame members. I think we can really just help each other grow and continually bring new fans to each other.”
One element the Whiskey Riff co-founders insist won’t change is the site’s distinctive voice.
“The Opry knows we’re gonna have opinions,” Gazibara says. “They don’t have a say in the content, obviously, but of course you want to amplify their content that fits with our audience—and there is plenty of that from their end.”
Currently, OEG supports emerging artists in multiple ways, including Grand Ole Opry debut performances, as well as the “My Opry Debut” series, which runs on television network Circle, OEG’s joint venture with Gray Television. Additionally, new acts garner support through the Opry NextStage program, and performances at various Ole Red locations (Ole Red is set to add a Las Vegas location later this year).
OEG and Whiskey Riff are considering a range of collaborative options, including podcasts and cross-promotional retail/branding opportunities. “You might see some of their brand of products in our brick and mortar locations,” Fioravanti says. “We are just starting to have those discussions, but it’s an opportunity to collaborate with our retail capabilities.”
Gazibara and Langeler envision further amplifying Whiskey Riff’s lifestyle content, including food, hunting, fishing and other sports. Meanwhile, the Colorado-based Whiskey Riff will soon have a full-time Nashville presence; the site’s operations manager will relocate to Nashville, while the site’s Nashville-based assistant editor will move to a full-time role.
“They will have access to go backstage [at the Opry], talk to people, maybe get some fun, rapid-fire content before artists go onstage, or show the jam band-kind of thing that often happens backstage,” Langeler says. “We want to give fans an inside look at stuff they maybe wouldn’t have seen.
“The Opry is the greatest country music institution in the world,” Langeler adds. “I think we will be a machine going forward, pumping out content, giving fans that access and telling great stories. Country music is such a rich storytelling fabric and we will be able to help the Opry amplify that, and they will be able to help us to be able to tell these stories.”