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Sponsors Turn Out as CMT Throws Party for 'Music Awards'

CMT has turned its CMT Music Awards into a three-day party in Nashville, and a record number of sponsors are turning out for the festivities.

The Viacom network has rebranded to attract a more diverse audience to its “modern country” and has seen ratings rise with new programming, including the former ABC drama Nashville.  

The CMT Music Awards, airing Wednesday night, is the network’s biggest event. Last year ratings were up 20%, attracting a record 3.6 million total viewers as it aired on CMT, TV Land and Nick at Nite.

“We noticed that our audience has started to grow and we’re bringing in the country music audience. Not only are they coming in, but they’re staying,” said Adam Steingart, senior VP of integrated marketing for CMT. “We realized this is a great opportunity for us to also grow the size and footprint of what’s going on around our largest tent pole event, the CMT Music Awards.

One of the priorities for new Viacom CEO Bob Bakish is having its networks create more events in the physical world. At its Movie & TV Awards earlier this year, MTV held a Music & Television Festival, featuring live music, special guests and food outside the Shrine Auditorium, where the awards were telecast. Comedy Central just held its three-day Clusterfest comedy festival in San Francisco. And BET has surrounded its annual award show with the BET Experience.

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“The country audience is an audience that people don’t always pay attention to, but they’re out there and they’re a large number of people who have made it the most popular format in music. So we wanted to create an experience that can serve those folks," Steingart said. “People get to not only interact with the CMT brand but also our sponsors’ brands along the way.”

The expanded CMT Music Awards has attracted a record number of sponsors, which in turn means higher revenues for the event, Steingart says.

Sponsor Lineup

This year, sponsors Aveeno, Bar-S, Dentastix, Firestone, Kingsford, Little Caesars and Pepsi have worked with the network to create custom sponsorship packages, while Bayer, Captain Morgan, Dove, General Mills, Liberty Mutual, L’Oréal and Verizon have opted for more a more basic approach.

“Not only do we have the most partners ever, but a number of these partners have come to us and have identified that the CMT Music Awards is going to be their platform for launching their summer campaign,” Steingart said. Many of the sponsors are also working with the network to create branded content they’ll be able to use after the event online and in social media.

Clorox’s Kingsford is introducing an important new line of longer-lasting charcoal and is partnering with the CMT Music Awards as part of its push.

“To support the initiative we were looking for a lot of high-profile events and activations this year, more so than we have in the past,” said Chris Neel, brand manager for Kingsford.

Related: CMT Shares Summer Plans

“CMT and the CMT Music Awards kind of fall smack dab in the heart of grilling season. Plus from a targeting standpoint, country music fans and the people that watch CMT are at the center of the bullseye in terms of the people we’re trying to reach who really understand the grilling and barbecue lifestyle,” Neel said. “It made a lot of sense to work with these guys and partner up on a larger scale.”

During the event, Kingsford will sponsor a side stage for people who can’t get into the award show, which is being held in a smaller venue, the Music City Center, because the Nashville Predators are in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, occupying the Bridgestone Arena.

Early Father's Day

Kingsford will be working with CMT to create content that will double as a Father’s Day campaign, encouraging people to barbecue for their dads.

“We’re able to get an additional springboard out of it over the next couple of weeks,” Neel said.

Another advertiser increasing its presence in the CMT event is Firestone Tires.

Justin Reinke, director of brand marketing for Firestone, says his brand stands for being durable, time-tested and working hard and playing hard.

“We add all those things together, and we say how are we going to activate against that. Country music seems like a natural fit,” Reinke said.

“CMT from a TV perspective and from a digital perspective has proven to be a good way for us to reach those consumers,” he said.

Firestone will sponsor a side stage during the festival featuring up-and-coming acts and Bigfoot, the monster truck.

“We’ve increased our involvement with them. You’ll see some more activations that happen in the digital space throughout the summer with some of those same artists,” said Reinke.

Firestone is based in Nashville so Reinke knows how crazy the city gets during the week with the CMT Music Awards and CMA Festival, not to mention the hockey championship.

“The awards show has done very well for CMT. They had great ratings last year. Building it out will help them,” he said.

Morning Yoga

Steingart says CMT has also partnered with Daybreakers, which is newly entering the Nashville market with its morning health and fitness program. The CMT Music Awards opened with yoga at 6 a.m. and a dance party between 7 and 9 a.m.

CMT is also working with Pepsi to create a music experience in a renovated Victorian house in East Nashville where up-and-coming talent will be showcased, plus eGaming, which is hot with younger consumers.

“They’ve identified us as a great selector of talent,” he said. “It’s a really great example of bringing country culture to life.”

Another sponsor, hotdog maker Bar-S, is promoting the CMT Summer of Music on its packages in stores including Kroger, Publix, Walmart and Target. The packaging invites consumers to enter a contest to win an opportunity to go to next year’s CMT Music Awards.

“We always love it when a partner not only wants to come in, but they embrace what we’re doing,” Steingart said.

CMT has used the return of Nashville this month to promote the CMT Music Awards. Stars of its shows including Nashville’s Charles Esten, Clare Bowen and Rachel Bilson will be at the awards, as well as Kellie Pickler of I Love Kellie Pickler and some of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.