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Gibson Guitar / Universal Studios do business

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Gibson Guitar Buys Venue Naming Rights

By GARY GENTILE, AP Business Writer

LOS ANGELES - Universal Studios has sold naming rights to its Universal Amphitheatre concert venue to Gibson Guitar Corp. in a 10-year deal valued at more than $14 million, the companies announced Monday.

The naming rights agreement is part of a wider deal that includes putting the Gibson name in other parts of the park and in sales and marketing materials, the companies said.

The 33-year-old theater will be called "The Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal Citywalk" for an 18-month transition period, after which the name will be shortened to "The Gibson Amphitheatre."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. But sources familiar with the agreement said it calls for Gibson to pay a little more than $1 million per year for a total of between $14 million and $15 million.

Gibson will get a new skybox in the arena, its name on employees' uniforms and branding on the Universal Studios backlot tram tour.

A Gibson Guitar Garden will also be built and be used to honor artists and host visitors.

Gibson will also work on promotions and publicity with House of Blues Concerts, which books concerts at the venue.

The commitment is the Nashville-based musical instrument maker's largest single marketing initiative, according to company chief executive Henry Juszkiewicz. It raises the company's profile in an important market for its products.

"Los Angeles is the epicenter of the music and entertainment business and the largest single consumer market in the United States," Juszkiewicz told The Associated Press.

Striking a deal with Universal was also attractive, Juszkiewicz said, because it will allow Gibson to get in early on opportunities to place its products in the company's films and TV shows.

The company makes Gibson and Epiphone stringed instruments, Baldwin pianos, Slingerland drums and Wurlitzer juke boxes, among other products. Its pianos were featured in the Universal Studios Ray Charles biopic "Ray."

Universal Studios has aggressively pursued partnerships with companies such as Volkswagen, Master Card and Coca-Cola that include branding opportunities in all its entertainment properties.

Selling naming rights to the amphitheatre is seen as more than just a financial windfall — it also generates new reasons for people to visit the Universal Citywalk area, the company said.

The property, which also includes Universal Studios theme park, attracts 10 million visitors a year, according to Syd Smith, vice president of business development at Universal Studios Partnerships.

"To maintain that, we have to always look at new and fresh ways to create buzz and excitement for the consumer," she said.

In evaluating several corporate partners, Smith said Gibson was a natural fit and can contribute more than just money. Gibson's participation will extend to special events at Citywalk and the amphitheatre designed to attract crowds.

"There's a lot more than just putting the Gibson name on the front of the venue," she said.

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