ChevronTexaco to Stop Sponsoring Met's Broadcasts

Reply Wed 21 May, 2003 12:15 pm
Wow, when even the Met is having trouble keeping corporate sponsors, how are the thousands of other arts organizations going to stay afloat?

The New York Times wrote:
ChevronTexaco announced yesterday that it would withdraw its support from the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon live radio broadcasts after the 2003-4 season, ending the longest continuous commercial sponsorship in broadcast history.

Joseph Volpe, general manager of the Met, said that he was determined to continue the broadcasts without ChevronTexaco and that he would look for a new sponsor.

Started on Christmas Day in 1931 with Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel," the Met matinee broadcasts have introduced opera to millions of people around the world.

Mr. Volpe said the broadcasts had been "the single most powerful audience development program in introducing opera to families" and had inspired opera stars. "Many of the singers today first discovered opera on the radio broadcasts," he said.

Patricia E. Yarrington, ChevronTexaco's vice president for public and government affairs, said in a statement, "As our business has evolved, we believe it is important to focus more of our resources directly with the countries and markets where we do business."

Beginning in 1940 Texaco was the sole sponsor of the broadcasts, which are now heard live from the Met stage at Lincoln Center 20 times a year on 360 stations at an annual cost of about $7 million. Broadcast December through April, the broadcasts reach an estimated 10 million listeners in 42 countries.

Betty Allen, a former mezzo-soprano who is now president emerita of the Harlem School of the Arts, said she listened to the broadcasts growing up in Campbell, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown.

"My neighbors were all Sicilian and Greek, and if you went up and down the street, you would hear the opera from everybody's windows," she said. "Everybody listened. It was the thing to do on Saturdays."

When the program was dropped by WCRB-FM in the Boston suburb of Waltham, the largest commercial classical music station in Massachusetts, the station manager received hate mail and threatening letters. The station does not carry the broadcasts.

Milton Cross was the show's announcer for more than 40 years, until his death in 1975, when Peter Allen took over.

The broadcasts are presented without commercial interruption, except for references to TexacoChevron in the commentary. During intermissions the programs occasionally offers an opera quiz, popular since the early days of the broadcast, when the quiz was called "The Opera Question Forum." Listeners send in questions each year in the hope of stumping a panel of opera experts.

Chevron bought Texaco for $36 billion in 2000. While $7 million may not seem like much to a major corporation, ChevronTexaco's decision comes at a time when the company has suffered financial problems. Last year the chief executive, David J. O'Reilly, took a 45 percent pay cut due to a decline in profits and the biggest drop in company shares in at least two decades.

The Met, too, has had a tough year and faces a nearly $10 million deficit, attributed to the drop in foreign tourism.

"Of course I'm disappointed that they've decided not to continue," Mr. Volpe said. "However, I think it is an opportunity to develop a relationship with another company."

He said that one or two major corporations, which he declined to name, had expressed interest in backing the broadcast. If he is unable to secure such sponsorship by the time ChevronTexaco's support runs out, Mr. Volpe said, the show would still go on.

"One way or another, it will survive," he said. "Even if we have to appeal to the radio listeners themselves for support."

The matinee broadcasts grew out of financial difficulty. During the Depression the Met faced its first budget deficits and welcomed NBC's offer of $120,000 to broadcast the season in 1931.

The 2003-4 live radio broadcast season is to start on Dec. 13 with the Met's new production of "La Juive," by Halévy, and is to conclude on April 24, 2004, with the broadcast of Wagner's "Götterdämmerung."

The relationship between ChevronTexaco and the Met will continue through the Early Notes program, which ChevronTexaco has endowed in perpetuity. That program, run by the Met and the New York City Department of Education, introduces opera to public school students.

ChevronTexaco also said it would donate to the Met the $1 million worth of equipment used to broadcast performances.
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Reply Wed 21 May, 2003 04:49 pm
Re: ChevronTexaco to Stop Sponsoring Met's Broadcasts
Maybe the company will sponsor monster truck rallies instead...
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Reply Thu 22 May, 2003 01:15 am
"As our business has evolved, we believe it is important to focus more of our resources directly with the countries and markets where we do business."

D'artagnan- Sometimes the greatest truths are said in jest. It is a pity, but opera goers do not have the demographics that advertisers want!
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Reply Thu 22 May, 2003 04:05 pm
My thoughts exactly, Phoenix! Sad, but true...
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Reply Thu 22 May, 2003 06:25 pm
I hate to sound grumpy...but for 60+ years Texaco sponsored the Met broadcasts. I've listened to many of them on Saturdays, as have some of you. In appreciation, we have all purchased our gas at Texaco stations. Right?
So now that the company has decided to move on (albeit with a statement from a spokesperson that is indecipherable) it is the villain in this story. Boycott Texaco, right?
I think it would be appropriate for the Met to thank Texaco for their decades of support and to say something like"...We look forward to forging a new relationship with etc,etc." -rjb-
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Reply Thu 22 May, 2003 06:34 pm
realjohnboy- Agree. Although I regret their decision, Chevron Texaco has to do what is best for their company.

Who was it who said, "A fella's gotta do, what a fella's gotta do"?
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2003 03:51 pm
Manuela Hoelterhoff (the Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic) has a wonderful op-ed piece in today's New York Times in which she describes how the Texaco-sponsored Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts first introduced her to the world of opera. The piece concludes (and please bear in mind that I'm quoting here, before anyone who may be from Texas takes offense):

"I e-mailed my dismay to ChevronTexaco and received a form response that is surely being shipped to thousands of other protesters. The writers of the 'ChevronTexaco Response Team' insist that the company's focus has changed after more than 63 years and with that its concept of community support. It just means someone dreary at the top looked at the $7 million or so spent every year and decided it wasn't an asset, but a puzzling debit. The sum is small and wouldn't come close to paying for one of those double-hulled ships the company could use.

"But that's the problem with art: how do you calculate the return on investment? How do you know if a girl in Shanghai has just had her mind opened up by Wagner's 'Ring' cycle and will mature into the scientist on your staff who invents a process to extract fuel from soda pop?

"All I know is that I am not unique, and countless children must have listened to those opera broadcasts and gone on to become mathematicians, Supreme Court justices, stock brokers, teachers and captains of industry (if not, I guess, at ChevronTexaco). I just got an e-mail message from a friend reared among the oil rigs of Texas who writes: 'We in Lubbock saw those broadcasts as our ticket out and proof positive that there was life beyond Texas borders. We would gather at my house on Saturday afternoons and dream. Some of our dreams came true.'

"Indeed. Susan Graham went on to become a star at the Met. She will make her last appearance for the ChevronTexaco-sponsored Metropolitan Opera broadcast next January as Hanna Glawari, a very rich and merry widow. May the Met find one soon to continue sending its classy message of a life beyond the mundane into the world."

The full piece can be found (for the next week, after which it will expire) at:

Fill 'Er Up With Opera
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2003 07:04 pm
As a Texan, I take no offense to the editorial. Thanks for posting it bree! Very Happy

I believe that all great art takes us beyond the limits of our everyday lives. How sad that ChevronTexaco will no longer support such a worthy cause.
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2003 08:03 pm
My good friend Allan used to have an "open house" on Saturday afternoons just to hear the Texaco broadcasts from the Met.

Allan was a devotee of opera which seemed dichotomous to his personality trait of being known as somewhat of a curmudgeon. I can see him now, leaning back in "his" chair, with the usual tobacco pipe between his teeth.

Around him would be a coterie of people who were in age from the teen years to the elderly. It might be a group of six one Saturday, and 60 the next. The number of the listeners was unimportant but the love of opera was.

Were Allan still alive today, he would probably organize a rather large boycott of Texaco just from those of us who had faithfully listened to the Met broadcasts at his century-old home. The Met broadcasts were a good escape for those of us who adore art but make our livings doing a variety of mundane jobs.

Allan passed away peacefully in his sleep about two years ago. He is looking down from Heaven, no doubt, and is very displeased with Texaco. So are so many of us who gathered with him to listen to what had become an American broadcast institution.
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Reply Wed 28 May, 2003 09:37 am
That's a great story, williamhenry3. He sounds like a real character and a great guy to have known!
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Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2003 01:18 pm

Allan was indeed a character and a wonderful friend for more than 30 years. He was an influential supporter of the arts in our community, both performing and visual.

He would scoff at me for writing nice things about him here. He never received compliments very well.
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Reply Mon 2 Jun, 2003 05:05 pm
Williamhenry3: "Allan '...never received compliments very well."

I never met your friend Allan, but what a fascinating choice of words in describing him. Thanks. -rjb-
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