Fifty years ago, last month, one of the most iconic and enduring partnerships in the country – BP and Renegades – was forged. And it all happened because then prime minister Eric Williams needed a clever way to quell social unrest.
“Amoco (BP’s precursor in TT) didn’t decide on the sponsorship. The government was having a lot of problems with the Black Power movement and there was a lot of unemployment and upheaval in the society. (Williams) decided one of the things he should try to do is get the young men who had steelbands and get them sponsorship. So, he invited Amoco to sponsor a steelband. We didn’t choose the band. The band was given to us as a choice and we accepted it. And that’s how the relationship began,” recalled Frank Arlen, former public relations officer for the band who joined a just few years after the first contract was signed.
“The band is the one who wanted to have the Amoco name with them and not the other way around. We were in those early days going on the prime minister’s request to do something for the community, for the young people and for the culture and we continued in that light. It started very humbly with small donations to cover the costs of equipment and uniforms, and so on, but it has grown from strength to strength. The band’s commitment to being the best it could be outpaced everything we ever thought of and hence the reason the band continues to be at the forefront of pan – not only in TT but the world,” added Gerard Jackson, head of BPTT’s government and stakeholder relations and the company’s main liaison with Renegades.
The BP Renegades sponsorship relationship is the archetypal arrangement that all other title steelband sponsorship agreements strive to be. But, as Arlen and Jackson note, what really differentiates the arrangement is the symbiosis – it’s a partnership where both parties have an equal voice at the table when it comes to making decisions.
“In those days, we had no idea where we were going when we undertook sponsorship. We had not done it before so we had no way of knowing how successful it could be or would be. We were asked to help the band because they needed money,” Jackson said.
One of the problems with sponsorship, Arlen noted, is that some sponsors behave as if they own the band and the band belongs to them because the band relies on them for money. “We never took that position. We were partners always. And the band had a big say in whatever was to happen its development and future. That kind of (voice) was established early.”
It’s a family, Jackson said, and while they might not agree on everything, there is plenty communication to come to consensus and resolution on making decisions that are best for the band. “It’s not just that you provide some funding and that’s it, you don’t see (us) until the next Panorama. We have meetings throughout the year.”
Ticking all the boxes
The arrangement also features prominently among BP’s corporate social responsibility commitments because it ticks all the right boxes. The company’s CSR policies revolve around education, enterprise development, and culture and the arts. Naturally, Renegades as a steelband falls into the latter, but there are a few key elements of the sponsorship that have facilitated the other two policies. First, there’s the Renegades’ associated music school, where young members of the band are taught music literacy among other things critical for performance success.
“(It’s not just) music literacy. When you look at the industry itself and opportunities to mic bands, for example, there is the technical aspects – stage management, stage lighting – all these things are part of an orchestra that we hardly ever think of and that’s part of the education we are looking to help provide,” Jackson said.
Education has also inspired the youth orchestra, 20 years old this year, as a way to channel that talent and also feed into the senior band – ensuring a steady supply of performers.
Then there’s enterprise development. The Renegades’ 38 Charlotte Street panyard in Port of Spain is well-known, but it wasn’t always theirs.
“They could have been thrown out at any time. And the company took the decision to purchase that land and give it to the band so they would have security of tenure,” Jackson added. This now allowed for opportunities for enterprise – in addition to being the premier liming spot and practice location for Carnival, the space is home to an official Renegades gift shop, as well as two bars. There’s also a kitchen that can be rented. This helps with the band’s sustainability model because it can now earn money instead of completely depending on its headline sponsor. And of course, it makes money through its performances, both locally and internationally
And while the band’s drive might have eventually led it to 11 Panorama titles – and the only one to score a hat trick – another important contribution is that because of sponsorship, the band was able to have a tuner and an arranger available throughout the year. This meant that the band was performance ready whenever they got a call.
Renegades is probably the most famous steelband in the world – and it has the resume to prove it. They’ve performed around the world – toured Europe, the US and Australia. They performed in Harlem in the 1980s for a special concert to raise funds and awareness calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid in South Africa. They’re in the Guinness Book of World Records for headlining a concert in 1990 with renowned French composer Jean Michel Jarre at an event that boasted a crowd of two million packed into the streets of Paris. And earlier this year, in the midst of the Carnival season, some of the band’s top performers headed to La Folle Journe, an annual classical music concert in Nantes, France, as the only band ever invited back multiple times to perform.
“This sponsorship has allowed us to not have to worry about certain things. So, whereas other bands might have to worry about funding their day to day operations and paying their utilities, for example, we’ve been able to focus on developmental stuff,” band president Colin Greaves said.
The band gets $1 million from BP every year in two tranches, but because it has diversified its revenue streams – from rental income and performance income – it is able to survive beyond that injection and sustainably mange its growth. But BP is not the only sponsor – the band is able to strike deals with other brands for smaller sponsorship opportunities. Blue Waters, for example, is the official rehydration partner, Greaves said.
“People think that because BP is our title sponsor we have a limitless flow of money but that’s not true and we have to look at other avenues (for revenue generation). We’ve had to constantly approach other corporate entities for support as well.”
The relationship with BP, though is unique. Not enough companies are stepping up in a big enough way to support these kinds of projects and create these kinds of relationships, Greaves noted, often baulking at the big price tags. But this one started small, and grew.
“They started with donating a couple of T-shirts and fixing equipment. Then they offered training in human resources and management. Or else they put us in contact with people who could help us be better. There’s so many avenues for support that will lend itself outside of just giving somebody a wad of cash. And there are so many companies in the neighbourhoods and communities that could adopt a band and really put effort and participate in the band’s survival.”
He recalled last December when BPTT president Claire Fitzpatrick sat in the stands with the players painting racks. “They BP are always here. Everybody knows them. And it’s not necessarily for pomp and ceremony, but they come because they are part of it.”
Arlen added: “I think from a sponsor’s perspective when you can get the president of the company to support the band the way (BP does), it adds so much more to the psyche of the band. Robert Riley, Norman Christie and now Claire have all supported and been present, in Panorama, in the panyard. They’ve been an integral part and I think that has made the band so much of a force to be reckoned with.”