Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Sponsors reluctant to hop aboard new-look Sumfest train?

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2016 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
(From left) Johnny Gourzong, Joe Bogdanovich and Robert Russell at the launch of Reggae Sumfest 2016, held at Tracks and Records.
Acclaimed singer and actress Jennifer Hudson (centre) shares her joy of being in Jamaica with Red Stripe's Blandine Reid (left), and Toni-Ann Reid, during last year's Reggae Sumfest press conference at Iberostar Hotel, Montego Bay.
From left: Digicel’s senior sponsorship and development manager, Kamal Powell; Janice Allen, regional director of the Jamaica Tourist Board; and Danielia McLean (Digicel), at last year's Reggae Sumfest launch.

Organisers of Reggae Sumfest 2016 stunned the local entertainment fraternity when they announced some drastic changes to the show's format this year, especially when they did away with the much-anticipated International Night.

And although the Reggae Sumfest team sought to reassure the public that the changes would not have any adverse effect on the quality of the show, the adjustments were met with some negative remarks.

Some people believed that the new approach would only ruin the show's reputation, while others have been begging the organisers to consider hitting the reset button. Among those who expressed concerns were some of the event's major sponsors, some of whom only recently pledged their support for the show.

When The Sunday Gleaner spoke to Josef Bogdanovich, chairman and CEO of Downsound Entertainment - now producers of Reggae Sumfest - he explained that securing sponsorship for any major entertainment event is an uphill task, as the latter has been on the decline in recent years.

"Sponsorship of entertainment events has decreased, and it has decreased for a lot of reasons," he said. "What these sponsors need to fully understand is that reggae music is a high point flag for this country. It is celebrated all over the world, and so the sponsors and various government agencies need to refocus and understand that we need to protect our natural resource of reggae music and the artistes who are the stars of this genre, and that's what this year's Reggae Sumfest is all about."

With the success of the 2016 staging of Reggae Sumfest hanging in the balance, Bogdanovich told The Sunday Gleaner that some of the sponsors on board this year were a bit reluctant in hopping aboard the new Reggae Sumfest train.

"We have so many sponsors on this show. They know that the Reggae Sumfest brand is a reliable brand, we put on quality productions, the show is safe and it attracts an international audience, so I think we've done well with that," he said, explaining that the sponsors who expressed concern at the new approach the event is taking only used the changes as an excuse to pledge their support in a smaller way. "I think they used that (the adjustments to the show) as an excuse to give less, and I think they're going to find out that there are a lot of good things that will happen this year."

Red Stripe has been a sponsor of Reggae Sumfest since its inception. When The Sunday Gleaner, spoke to Dianne Ashton-Smith, head of corporate relations at Red Stripe, she expressed that despite the new approach, the company had no reservations about sponsoring the 2016 staging of the event.

"We are Jamaica's pride in a bottle. Red Stripe is all about Jamaican culture and Jamaican music," she said. "Brand Jamaica is something we

should all protect passionately. At Red Stripe, we take that responsibility very seriously, just as we do our own brand. As such, we align with products that embrace all that's good about Jamaica and which represent our country well."

Telecommunications giant Digicel is another of the festival's major sponsors who did not hesitate to throw their support behind Reggae Sumfest, even in the midst of all the uncertainty surrounding the success of this year's staging. Kamal Powell, senior sponsorship and development manager at Digicel Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner that the company is delighted to be part of Reggae Sumfest 2016.

"We have been supporting this event for more than a decade now and we are looking forward to another fantastic showcase of reggae music," he said. "We are especially looking forward to the new format of the event and we'll be bringing our own brand of excitement. We know our customers will have an amazing time."

Making it clear that he has nothing to prove in terms of executing a spectacular first staging of the new and improved Reggae Sumfest, Bogdanovich told The Sunday Gleaner that the show will be magical.

"I think this show is going to reaffirm how great this music is. I don't know about proving anything, but I think they're (sponsors) are going to see that the bar will be raised. All I need to do is execute and bring that international festival experience not just here at home but to the international market as well."

A confident Bogdanovich also told The Sunday Gleaner that when Reggae Sumfest 2016 comes to a close, sponsors will be lining up to pledge their support for Sumfest 2017, based on the quality of this year's event.

"I'm not a risk, I'm a contributor. I'm not trying to hustle this thing. I love reggae music and I think I can bring it to the world on a larger scale, and we will see that in a few weeks."