Will This Megaconcert With the Stones, Dylan and The Who Really Pass Up Sponsors?

What a long, strange trip it's been

Desert Trip has already cleared $160 million from its sold-out six-day schedule, Oct. 7-9 and 14-16. Photo Illustration: Chefboyrg; Sources: Rederns, Getty Images, WireImage, FilmMagic

The nasty jokes started shortly after the Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and Bob Dylan announced they'd be performing on the same bill for the first time at an epic two-weekend rock show dubbed Desert Trip.

Who would sponsor this lineup of superstar septuagenarians? Forest Lawn Cemetery?

Very funny, you snarky kids, who also labeled the upcoming shows "Oldchella," as a riff on the millennial-heavy Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival held annually at the same venue in Indio, Calif.

As it turns out, there are likely to be few brand partners—funereal or otherwise—for Desert Trip, despite a long history of concert sponsorships, music licensing and high profile alliances between blue-chip brands and most of the celebrated artists involved.

Festival organizers at AEG Live said there may be a "limited number" of sponsors, but declined to name them pending still-unsigned deals.

But industry watchers said there were likely plenty of potential suitors, especially because the Rolling Stones all but pioneered concert sponsorships decades ago. Turning away deals, then, is a curious choice.

"Festivals are such a strong magnet for corporate marketers," said William Chipps, senior content editor at consultancy IEG. "And this audience—affluent baby boomers—is very attractive."

IEG reports that music sponsorships in general are thriving, with brands spending $1.4 billion on concerts, venues and festivals in 2015, about a 5 percent increase from 2014. This year's figures are expected to jump again, Chipps said.

"If Desert Trip doesn't have corporate sponsors," he said, "it'll be unique."

Typically, sponsorships for a major concert a month away would already be activated, given the lead-up to a show as important as the show itself. At press time, there are none to speak of.

The event's promoter, Paul Tollett of AEG sibling company Goldenvoice, recently told The New York Times that Desert Trip has already cleared $160 million from its sold-out six-day schedule, Oct. 7-9 and 14-16. That would make it the highest-grossing festival ever, sailing past Tollett's established hit, Coachella.

Those figures may tell most of the story. In other words, organizers didn't sign sponsor deals because they simply didn't need them. Ticket prices were high, with $1,600 three-day reserved passes selling out immediately. General admission tickets, about $200 a day or $400 for each weekend, were snapped up at a slower pace, but everything was gone in a few hours.

Organizers have gone out of their way to say these are once-in-a-lifetime events, not a typical festival, with amenities like a $500 "culinary experience" prepped on-site by chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and Michael Mina. Shows begin at sunset, much more civilized than the sweaty, heat-of-the-day festival model, and boomer fans can bring their own beach chairs for that all-important lumbar support. (That's appropriate for a shindig that McCartney called "fossil rock," in a recent Rolling Stone interview.)

The logistics of marrying corporate partners with this many megawatt performers could be fairly complicated, said David Schwab, svp and managing director of Octagon First Call, but might've been smoothed out by having individual brands sponsor a certain stage or area of the suburban Los Angeles venue. (And if Young, who's written some scathing lyrics about product shilling in his day, objected to any brand deals, he could've played unsponsored.)

But Schwab thinks that other revenue sources—merchandise, livestreaming and television rights, perks for VIPs—will help boost the final take of what's been called one of the priciest lineups of the year. (Headliners like the Stones are reportedly earning upwards of $6 million. All the artists are playing full sets on both weekends, and production costs alone could reach $15 million.)

Though the rural Empire Polo Club may be light on brand presence for Desert Trip, the iconic performers are no strangers to sponsorships. The Stones broke ground in 1981 with their Jovan Musk-sponsored tour, former Beatle McCartney has worked with HP and Lexus, to name a few, and Dylan has appeared in Pepsi's Super Bowl, IBM Watson and Victoria's Secret ads. The Who's Pete Townshend has famously said that he'll do whatever he wants with his music, licensing it to Nissan and TV series CSI, for instance, critics be damned.

"These artists are huge brands, and they can afford to do whatever they want," Schwab said. "But I'd bet they're making up that sponsor money somewhere else, and that was probably part of the business plan from the start."

This story first appeared in the September 5, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.