Microsoft Takes Naming Rights to L.A.'s Nokia Theatre (Exclusive)

Microsoft Theater Sign - H 2015
Courtesy of AEG

Microsoft Theater Sign - H 2015

More than just a new name, the concert venue and home of the Emmys and ESPYs also will receive a "technology refresh."

In its first naming-rights deal for a sports or entertainment building, Microsoft has put its moniker and logo on the downtown Nokia Theatre L.A. Live as part of a multiyear partnership agreement with AEG.

Microsoft, which snapped up Nokia’s phone business in a $7.2 billion transaction that was announced in September 2013, inherited the original Nokia-AEG deal that runs through July 2018. Financial details of that deal were not available.

The Seattle-based company should realize a quick bang for its branding buck when the Microsoft Theater hosts the July 15 ESPYs, where Caitlyn Jenner is set to receive The Arthur Ashe Courage Award. The 7,100-seat concert and special events venue, which opened in October 2007, also is home to the Emmy Awards.

“We haven’t done much work in this area in the past. It’s a cool platform to showcase our technology in a new light,” Shawn Sanford, senior director of lifestyle marketing for Microsoft (and husband of actress Poppy Montgomery), told The Hollywood Reporter.

The company has become more active in putting its brand in such areas as sports, pop culture and lifestyle. “It’s part of a brand-perception shift about what we are saying about Microsoft,” Sanford said, “and how we shift the perception of us in the entertainment community.”

L.A. Live’s 40,000-square-foot outdoor plaza is now known as Microsoft Square, and the 2,300-seat Club Nokia in the plaza will be rebranded.

More than just getting a name change, the Microsoft Theater will receive a “technology refresh,” as Sanford put it, with improvements in the green rooms, writers' rooms and staging areas to better serve promoters and artists. The company also is working on ways to improve the theatergoer experience.

“They could have just put up new signage, but they chose to look at things from top to bottom,” Lee Zeidman, president of L.A. Live, Staples Center and Microsoft Theater, said in an interview. He said the venue will be outfitted with new seats and new carpeting with a different color scheme.

Zeidman also noted that the upgrades give AEG a “bigger tool belt” with which to attract (and retain) events like the MTV Movie Awards, the BET Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, all of which also call L.A. Live home. The festival’s deal expires after the 2015 edition, which kicks off Wednesday.

The Nokia name already has been substituted at AEG-owned venues outside Dallas (a venue now known as the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie) and in New York City’s Times Square (now the Best Buy Theater).

Microsoft’s investments in L.A. also include facilities in Silicon Beach, four retail stores and partnerships with the L.A. Unified School District, L.A. Urban League and the Magic Johnson Foundation.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4