Pop go the sponsors

 

Louis Walsh, manager of Boyzone and Westlife, has few reservations about getting corporate sponsors. "We will get involved in anything except cigarettes and alcohol. It's hard to refuse if there's a lot of money being offered and you've only so much time left in your career."

Boyzone had a deal with Virgin Cola in the band's early days, and have since done a lot of advertising for Pepsi. Various companies have sponsored their tours. Westlife promote Siemens phones.

Westlife's first sponsorship deal was a modest local arrangement with Tayto crisps - collect empty Tayto bags then send them off to get a free beanie hat.

According to merchandiser Dave Bell, Westlife "are a really hot act at the moment and everybody wants to do something with them. Manufacturers are working on Westlife jewellery, stationary, toiletries, dolls, watches, clocks, mugs, duvets, wallpaper."

One company is offering a novel scheme - fans send off a photo of themselves and the company will scan it into a poster-sized picture of the band.

The situation is more delicate for rock acts. They have merchandise, but the majority of street-credible rock acts would steer clear of major corporate deals.

The reason is plain enough: it would be hard for the Manic Street Preachers to roar about "the masses against the classes" and at the same time promote a soft drink.

The fear of corporate involvement weakening a band's identity goes back to rock's younger days. For example, in the late 1960s Ford wanted to use Doors song Light My Fire for a TV ad. Keyboard player Ray Manzarek recalled years later: "We had signed the deal, then Jim [Morrison] came back from the desert and said, `Holy s**t, don't go to bed with the corporations." The deal was dropped.

The rock attitude irritates Louis Walsh: "Rock acts are all trying to be credible - we're not so fussy. We don't have the pretension that those bands have, so if there's a good deal and there's money on the table, I'll take it."