A Brand New Day for City as Search Begins for Sponsors; Merchandising Can Raise Millions, Reports Tony McDonough

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Byline: Tony McDonough

BEING European Capital of Culture 2008 is a prestigious honour -but it will also be an expensive one.

It has been estimated that Liverpool will attract up to pounds 2bn in extra investment over the next five years.

However, between now and then, the city council is going to have to find tens of millions of pounds to fund the year-long programme of events in 2008.

For its lower-profile City of Culture programme in 1990, Glasgow pumped in around pounds 32m and was rewarded with a hugely successful year.

Between now and 2008, the city council has budgeted to spend pounds 31.8m but that figure could well be exceeded if a drive to generate more revenue is successful.

Funding will come from a variety of sources, including the Government and the National Lottery, but a major slice of the cash needed will have to come from sponsorship.

According to Liverpool Council chief executive David Henshaw, the drive for sponsorship revenue is already under way.

Inspiration has come from just down the M62 in Manchester, where the sponsorship strategy played such a vital role in the successful staging of last year's Commonwealth Games. Key to the strategy, said Mr Henshaw, is the Liverpool brand which will become, he claims, a powerful marketing tool.

``This is going to cost a lot of money. We are going to get grants but we need to bring in as much extra revenue as possible. Every pound we generate from outside helps to reduce the cost to the city.

``With European Capital of Culture, we have a unique opportunity to assert the `Liverpool' brand. And that is the re-emergence of the brand -not the brand of the past.

``That brand has to be really strong and powerful and have a big impact, not just locally, but globally.''

CENTRAL to this branding is the city logo, containing the famous Liver Bird, which is undergoing some modifications for use in a major merchandising drive. ``During the bid, we wanted everyone to use the city logo everywhere free of charge,'' he said.

``Now we need to protect the intellectual property of that image and use it to bring sponsorship in at various levels that we believe will produce a significant revenue stream to help us pay for European Capital of Culture.''

Mr Henshaw said the search for sponsors would go beyond the regional and national boundaries and would target the biggest companies in the world. Companies like McDonald's, Coca-Cola or Microsoft, for example, would certainly be on the list.

``Companies will pay significant amounts to use that image on events put on in the year and also on their own merchandise they sell as part of their day-to-day business.

``Using the Commonwealth Games as an example, for that event they sold between 60 million and 70 million pounds worth of kit, that is Tshirts, stickers, pens and other merchandise. That was before, during and after the Games.

``The Commonwealth Games organisation took around pounds 3.5m of income with no risk. They simply franchised the image, as we will, onto a whole set of goods sold through retail outlets.

``On a special coin collection, for example, the Commonwealth Games was paid a significant amount of money by the Royal Mint in royalties for that collection.

``We think the market for that is huge because the Games were a global event and we can use the Liverpool brand across the world to generate internet sales of merchandise.

``This is a huge marketplace which will help us fund European Capital of Culture.''

The council is being very cautious in its estimates of how much sponsorship and merchandising will raise for the city.

Mr Henshaw said: ``Just on merchandising, our initial calculations are that we are looking at two to three million pounds, but that is a very conservative estimate.

``From sponsorship you are talking millions of pounds and every million we bring in helps to pay for lots of things that will be happening in the run-up to and during 2008. …