Verizon pulls out of Stefani tour

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NEW YORK - Verizon Wireless has abruptly pulled out as the presenting sponsor on Gwen Stefani's current tour due to an incident involving the trek's opening act, Akon.

Last month, during a concert in Trinidad, the R&B singer danced provocatively with a 15-year-old fan. When footage of the onstage dance found its way online, Verizon got cold feet. (Akon's show in Trinidad was unrelated to and not part of Stefani's Sweet Escape tour, which began April 21 in Phoenix.)

In addition to ending its affiliation with the trek, Verizon has also removed Akon ringtones and music from its stores and handsets. The Verizon Wireless V Cast TV spots featuring Akon are also history.

Industry sources put the cash value of a tour sponsorship package like the one between Stefani and Verizon in the $1.5-$2 million range in cash, which artists typically use to finance production, startup costs and other tour expenses.

But marketing value can be worth as much as $1 million or more. Stefani manager Jim Guerinot, of Rebel Waltz, declined to discuss the financial terms, but told Billboard.com that "we're just in the beginning stages of evaluating" the impact of Verizon's move. Regarding the presenting sponsorship, Guerinot says, "We're surprised and shocked they've backed out of it."

As for Akon, Guerinot said, "Akon has been a perfect gentleman on this tour. His show has at best been a PG show. Children of all ages have been attending. We have had no complaints -- nothing but satisfied people. And I would say that we're shocked that Verizon would drop Gwen Stefani as part of this whole debate."

Industry observers say it will be difficult for Stefani and her team to pull another sponsor into the Sweet Escape tour, which has North American dates on the books through June 30 in Las Vegas. To this point, no dates have been cancelled and Akon remains on the tour.

Akon and Verizon spokespeople were unavailable for comment.
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