The (Converse) 100 Club

100 ClubHey, so the 100 Club isn’t going to close down, which is nice. But best of all, it’s not going to have to operate with a stupid new name, despite brand money behind behind the rescue.

The legendary London venue’s boss, Jeff Horton, who has run it since 1985, revealed last September that it was looking likely he’d have to close the place down after rent on the space rose to £13,800 per month, not to mention another £4000 per month in business rates. Over on the other side of Oxford Street, music fans had already lost two venues – the Astoria and the Metro – to make way for the all-new Tottenham Court Road underground station, which in part led to the fervence of the campaign to save it. Plus, of course, the 100 Club is known for its prominent place in the history of new music over the last 35 years – most notably as a focus of the late 70s punk scene.

Numerous musicians gave their support to the ‘Save The 100 Club’ campaign, but it gained most momentum when Paul McCartney played a gig in the 350 capacity venue last December. It was shortly after this that Horton revealed a sponsor had been found to cover running costs, and this week it was announced that this was footwear makers Converse.

Sponsorship of venues is nothing new, of course. But what is uncommon about this deal, is that Converse is not demanding that the venue be renamed to The Converse 100 Club, or something similar. In fact, Horton told Xfm, the company just “wanted to give us a hand”.

Presumably it’s not just that, there will almost certainly be some sort of Converse presence at the venue in future (maybe not selling shoes behind the bar, but advertising at least seems likely). But they seem keen to keep in low key. Which is both nice and clever. Clever because, actually, if you think about it, it’s probably more effective for a brand to subtly be IN a venue, rather than pretending to BE the venue.

You can see how the latter approach happens; executives at large brands know they should be “in the music space” and live is where it’s at these days. And what better way to break into all that than appearing to ‘own’ a venue. Okay, in the case of HMV – with the HMV Apollo and the HMV Forum in London, and the HMV Institute in Birmingham – they really do own those venues. But they’re an exception.

Raise your hand now if you ever refer to Brixton’s main venue as The O2 Academy Brixton (put your hand down if you’re one of its employees who begrudgingly does so when answering the office phone). Anyone? No. It’s the Brixton Academy. An iconic venue with an iconic name.

Anyone who thinks they can convince people to stop calling it that doesn’t understand the connection to a venue and its history a music fan can have. And anyone who thinks that attaching their company’s name to a venue in that way will make people think they’re cool is being lied to by their brand consultant. More likely music fans will be offended at the brand claiming ‘ownership’ of something that, in an emotional way, they consider to be theirs.

O2 are the most prolific in this space, of course, following Carling in tagging their names onto pretty much every Academy venue. Though I always think the most ridiculous sounding is ‘The Relentless Garage’, the official name for the Islington venue now it’s being sponsored by the Coke owned energy drink. Who in their right mind would ever refer to The Garage as The Relentless Garage? It sounds like somewhere you go to be punished.

So, well done Converse. Handing over £200,000 or so a year on the grounds that you’d just like to help out a bit is far more likely to make music fans warm to you than storming in and telling everyone that you’re in charge of their fun.

Taken from the 18 Feb 2011 edition of CMU Weekly. Click the link to listen to the CMU podcast, where there’s more 100 Club chatter.

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