Corps increasingly see profit in taking on show sponsor’s role

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

This article was originally published in the June 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 38, Number 3).

Some within the drum community may see the loss of an existing locally-sponsored show on the DCI tour as a reflection of the troubling economic times, or a shrinking roster of local sponsors, or just bad luck. George Lindstrom sees it as an opportunity for Denver’s Blue Knights.

That’s because Lindstrom and his wife, Lynn, have been running the famed “Drums Along the Rockies” (DATR) in Denver since 1985 for the Blue Knights and now also run three other shows for the corps. In addition to DATR, the Lindstroms also run shows in Ogden, UT; Albuquerque, NM; and their newest in Windsor, CO, this summer.

The reason they do it is simple — they make substantial money for the corps. Lindstrom reports that show profits represent the Blue Knights’ top fund-raiser.

But that’s not the only reason.

“The reason we do this is two-fold for us. One is so that we have additional income if the shows show a profit,” said Lindstrom, a member of the Blue Knights’ board of directors who was a former director of the corps, as well as the Kilties and he was founder of Memphis Blues Brass Band.

“And second, it provides links to Denver,” he said. “For instance, if you’re in the Midwest, you can get five to six good corps together on a weekend. It’s easy to do and you don’t necessarily have to tour. But in Denver, they tend to be isolated. The West Coast tends to have some corps that can get together on a regular basis.

“But next to the Blue Knights, the Troopers are the closest at about 300 miles and the Crossmen at about 900 miles. That just doesn’t work in terms of running shows. So what we’ve attempted to do is put together show links to ‘Drums Along the Rockies’ to make it attractive to the better corps in the country.”

The Blue Knights are certainly not alone among corps seizing upon opportunities to sponsor an increasing number of shows in the tour schedule. The Blue Devils, The Cadets, Carolina Crown, The Cavaliers, Colts, Santa Clara Vanguard and Madison Scouts are all among the growing number of corps that now host multiple shows in a wide variety of locations.

The Cadets also run four shows — two each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Phantom now hosts the former Huntington, WV, show in Charleston.

The Colts just agreed to sponsor their third show, halfway across Iowa in Des Moines — the state’s largest city. The show is designed to fill the void left by the demise of the 25-year “Celebration in Brass” in nearby Ankeny.

And when John Noonan — a member of The Cavaliers’ board of directors who has run shows for both The Cavaliers and Pioneer — was looking for a sponsor to pick up a DCI show in the Milwaukee area, he turned to the Madison Scouts. The date became available when the Oswego, IL, DCI event was canceled.

“We have only about 83 days to pull off the event,” wrote Steve Vickers, DCW publisher and a member of the Scouts’ board of directors, in an e-mail. “We are working with the ‘Spectacle of Music’ committee in South Milwaukee, an event that dates back to 1946. John (Noonan) and I are co-chairing the project and we have hit the ground running! Obviously there are many things to accomplish in a short period of time, but I’m confident we’ll have a successful competition on Wednesday, July 1.”

Corps seize opportunities to make a buck

A cursory look at the DCI tour schedule shows how corps are increasingly taking over show sponsorship. That’s not really a surprise. If a local sponsor loses interest in running a show in a fertile drum corps area, the corps realize that they can maintain the fan base, keep the tour moving down the road and make some money in the process.

“I think the corps are sponsoring shows, not because somebody else won’t,” Lindstrom said, “but I think they’re doing that because it’s an opportunity — if they get a group of people who will run the shows — to make money. I don’t think anybody is saying, ‘Well we can’t get a show done in wherever it may be, therefore, let’s have a corps do it.’ I don’t think there’s much of that, although I’m sure there’s some. I think it’s an opportunity. I mean, our position right now is, we’re aggressively going after others.”

“I think The Cavaliers were the first ones to really do it and that was because some shows really staggered in Texas, starting with Killeen, which had a really strong committee. But then the committee got mad at a man and wife who were the backbone of that committee and wanted them to leave, they did,” said Brandt Crocker, the venerable “Voice of DCI,” who also will serve as the show coordinator at nine contests this summer. “And within a year, the show was gone. The Cavaliers stepped in.” They now host a show in Denton, TX, in addition to their regular shows in Naperville, IL, and Michigan City, IN.

While corps may not always have the same local knowledge when they take over a show, they have plenty of knowledge about what it takes to run the event. In theory, nobody should know better how to run a good show than the organizations that participate in them regularly.

“It’s certainly easier to talk with somebody who understands the logistics of a show, as opposed to talking to a sponsor who you have to remind, ‘Now when the box comes from the office, look at the field diagram to make sure the markings are NCAA. They can’t be the high school ones’,” Crocker said. “That makes it much easier.”

“I don’t think it’s because we can’t get sponsors. I think it’s because corps are going after it [sponsorship] and I think DCI likes that because there’s a sensitivity when someone who’s been in drum corps runs a show, they tend to understand the expectations of the corps more than some local club might,” Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom show sponsorship 101

Possibly nobody in the activity understands the corps’ expectations better than the Lindstroms, who annually turn their home into show central command for the Blue Knights. They were honored for their work by DCI corps directors in 2008 for having the “Tour Event of the Year” in “Drums Along the Rockies.”

And they’ve literally written the book — or at least a training program — for members of their local show committees on what it takes to run a show.

“Two people [he and his wife, Lynn] run and manage all the shows, including the two band shows we do in the fall,” Lindstrom said. “And we have a group of people who we have worked with here at the Blue Knights, probably for 15 to 20 years, who always do ‘Drums Along the Rockies.’ We bring in new people from time to time to train and if they want to stay with it, they become part of the regular crew.

“When we set up Rio Rancho (Albuquerque) the first year, Lynn and I, and about four others, went down and basically ran it,” he said. “Then we formed a local committee of about six or seven people and we ran a training program for them that Lynn and I developed, saying, ‘Here’s everything you have to do for a show.’

“That local committee now does a lot of the work that Lynn and I used to travel to Albuquerque three or four or five times during the winter to set everything up. Now we can make a phone call and a lot of the follow-through is done by that local committee.”

The Lindstroms have a formula in place that is both the model of efficiency for them and quite lucrative for the Blue Knights. And based on the increasing number of shows now being run by corps, the competition has learned the secret to success, too.

But for those corps just now exploring the possibilities of expanding their fund-raising reach outside of their home show, Lindstrom offers this advice.

“Find some press [news media exposure],” he said. “But the first thing if we’re going to start a show is, make sure we have a stadium and make sure that stadium will afford us — depending on what ticket prices we think we can charge — the opportunity to make money or break even.
“Sometimes you also have to spend money to make money. We spent money just to get to Ogden and Rio Rancho four to five times a year and then all of a sudden things started to fall into place,” he continued. “So it just takes time and getting people motivated to help.”

And a good number of Drum Corps International’s corps appear plenty motivated to get in to show business these days. That’s reflected in DCI’s 108-show schedule!