Frisch’s Big Boy partnership with Cincinnati Ballet and The Nutcracker is a very longstanding one (almost 50 years, in fact!) Can you shed some light on how it came to be so many years ago?
Way back in 1973, philanthropist and businessman John Magro approached Jack Maier, then the president of Frisch’s, about committing $150,000 right away and $100,000 a year for the next nine years to underwrite Cincinnati Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Wow! That’s a lot of money now. Imagine what it felt like in 1973!
It was quite controversial at the time. The Ballet Board wasn’t sure about the association with Frisch’s, because Frisch’s had been more sports-oriented, and they questioned the idea of linking hamburgers and ballet. Frisch’s management hesitated, too, because that seemed like far too much money for something so rarefied.
However, Jack’s wife Blanche (daughter of the founder, David Frisch), who had been a member of the Ballet’s Women’s Committee for several years, was completely in love with the art form.
In the end, Jack decided that the marketing strategy benefited Frisch’s by providing exposure to large numbers of families, not only locally but regionally, where Frisch’s had locations.
I’d say things have worked out well for everyone!
From your point of view, why do you think Frisch’s returns as a Nutcracker sponsor year after year?
I personally think that Frisch’s reputation as a quality organization sways to the positive with this association. Every year, The Nutcracker engages more than 80 young dancers. Several of those dancers have been a part of our CincyDance! Program, and would never have imagined themselves on stage, in a beautiful costume, dancing to the live music of 65 talented CSO musicians playing the magnificent Tchaikovsky score, and performing next to top professional dancers who join them from not only around the country, but from around the world. What an experience, and what a positive experience to support.
When it’s Nutcracker time each year, does Frisch’s seem like part of the Cincinnati Ballet family since this partnership has existed for so long? If so, in what way?
Yes, Frisch’s has always been there for us, from long before I arrived on the scene (I am in my 22nd year). Every year for over a decade, we invite Frisch’s Big Boy into our theater lobby, complete with his bright shinny face and the most delectable hamburger resting on a plate in his extended hand, finding its way into our Christmas décor. Sometimes the Big Boy joins us in the Battle Scene on stage. Frisch’s support is huge for us. Just like A Christmas Carol is to a company theater, The Nutcracker is to all ballet companies around the country. It’s our bread and butter, typically representing 50% of our annual ticket sales.
How important are sponsorships like this one to the ballet, and why?
Since The Nutcracker is the best way for us to introduce this art form to our community, the impact is huge. Most every dancer in our company, when asked when they first realized they loved dance, say it is when they were in The Nutcracker. It is typical that the first time a dancer felt the lights of the stage on their skin and the first time they danced to live music, it was in The Nutcracker. As our highest selling production of the year, it is The Nutcracker that defines what dance means to so many in our community. The fact that we can bring this production, our biggest and most extravagant, every year to our community provides us with a unique educational opportunity, and we thank our sponsors for helping us to do that.
Why should other companies consider sponsorships with Cincinnati Ballet (i.e., what’s special/unique about partnerships of this type)?
We do a really good job of marketing our productions, using social media, billboards, our playbills, TV, radio, newspaper and all of the various forms of PR and marketing, and that has true benefit to our sponsors. An excellent case is point is Frisch’s, which has become integral as to how we talk about our Nutcracker. We welcome the opportunity to help lots of other companies throughout our city extend their brand visibility through our marketing and PR outreach.
Speaking of Nutcracker, is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to regarding this year’s production?
Of course! We are welcoming a true Cincinnati and international icon, Fiona, into our cast of characters. You wouldn’t think that such a hefty hippo could pull it off, but she has been determined, and has mastered the choreography. She has proven herself the fighter that the world has always known her to be!