By LARRY KANTER and DANIEL TAUB
With the announcement of the 41st annual Grammy Award nominations last week, many music fans are wondering whether hip-hop chanteuse Lauren Hill will edge out country crooner Shania Twain as artist of the year.
But farther from the public eye, another fierce competition is underway.
It’s the annual tug of war between Los Angeles and New York over which city will play host to the Grammys next year and, perhaps, the foreseeable future. For tourism and economic-development officials, the stakes are every bit as high as the battle among the artists themselves.
On Feb. 24, the awards show returns to L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium after being held in New York for the past two years. But behind the scenes, L.A. officials are engaged in efforts to land the awards in 2000 and, they hope, to keep it here.
To say that there has been heavy lobbying “is probably breaking new ground in understatement,” noted Michael Greene, president and chief executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which oversees the awards ceremony and chooses the location each year.
Why all the effort? Tourist dollars, tax revenues, and the prestige and international publicity associated with the event.
Last year’s Grammys brought $23 million to New York City’s coffers, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Between hotel and limousine rentals, restaurant and catering tabs, production costs and local media advertising, this year’s Grammys should generate more than $26 million in direct and indirect spending in Los Angeles, according to the Economic Development Corp. of L.A. County.
What’s more, the event is now seen in more than 180 countries by an estimated viewing audience of 1.5 billion, according to NARAS numbers that suggest untold marketing opportunities for the entire region, local boosters say.
“The international exposure you get is unbelievable,” said Kathryn Schloessman, president of the L.A. Sports & Entertainment Commission and a member of the Grammy host committee, a group of business and community leaders that is organizing a month-long program of cultural events and activities surrounding the awards show.
To hear Schloessman tell it, this year’s broadcast will prove useful in promoting a number of other local attractions, such as the California Science Center and the L.A. County Museum of Art’s Van Gogh exhibit.
“We’re trying to take all the spotlight that is going on the show and throw it on a bunch of L.A. initiatives,” she said. “The Grammys is not just about the show. You work really hard to get an event like that here.”
Unlike other high-profile awards programs, such as the Oscars and the Emmys, both of which are held in Los Angeles year after year, the Grammys have been bouncing back and forth between the two coasts for some time. It’s an arrangement that neither city is thrilled with, and one that L.A. would like to remedy by snagging the event on a full-time basis.
L.A.’s ace in the hole, boosters say, is the new Staples Center arena. The venue, which is scheduled to open in October, could be the perfect site for the Grammys, which is fast outgrowing the Shrine and New York’s Radio City Music Hall, site of last year’s show. The event was held to mixed reviews at the much-larger Madison Square Garden in 1997.
Staples Center, by contrast, was designed with an eye toward overcoming the production challenges and lack of intimacy often associated with arena events. The venue’s architects even consulted with NARAS officials in an effort to make the arena particularly Grammy-friendly.
“The addition of Staples Center to the L.A. repertoire is a very compelling argument,” said Casey Wasserman, grandson of entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman and co-chair of the Grammy host committee. “Just like the Academy Awards, I don’t see why we couldn’t have the Grammys on a full-time basis.”
Whether New York has the same passion for the event as Los Angeles remains to be seen.
Greene said he has heard from plenty of record-industry executives who want the Grammys to return to the Big Apple. But Jonathan Tisch, chairman of that city’s host committee in 1998 and head of Loews Hotels, declined to comment on efforts to bring the Grammys back to New York, saying he is not yet involved in any such drive. Representatives from Madison Square Garden, which also operates Radio City Music Hall, also refused to comment.
A spokeswoman at the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau said she was unaware of any concerted lobbying drive, but added that such efforts generally gather steam only after the current year’s broadcast.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s office did not return repeated phone calls.
Such reticence could stem from a very high-profile feud last year between the combative New York mayor and Greene, in which Giuliani accused the Grammy boss of making disparaging remarks about one of his aides. The dispute ended with Giuliani stating that New York does not need the awards show.
“If they want to go to L.A., they can,” he said at the time.
Greene denied that the tiff with New York’s mayor had anything to do with the decision to move the Grammys to Los Angeles in 1999.
“The Giuliani situation hasn’t affected any of our operations,” he said. “I just can’t get involved in this kind of political posturing.”
Rather than being swayed by politics or personalities, Greene said NARAS is simply looking for the best deal. But he admitted that the organization reaps the benefits of the bi-coastal tug of war.
“It’s very important that we have some kind of competitive situation going on, because between the unions and the sets and all the things that go into producing a show like this, it’s ridiculously expensive,” he said. While not putting a price tag on the event, Greene said it costs NARAS “under $10 million” (though he says it runs up to 20 percent more in New York).
To help offset such expenses and sweeten the pot, the city of Los Angeles agreed to waive some $63,000 in city fees including traffic control and the cost of closing streets that would normally be charged to organizers of the event.
The host committee, meanwhile, is raising millions of dollars to fund “L.A. GrammyFest,” a series of cultural and educational events associated with the awards that will run throughout the month of February, including performances, exhibits, lectures and music programs in the public schools.
“Part of the goal this year is to make it compelling for them to stay in 2000,” Wasserman said.
Amid such jockeying, the nation’s music industry is fixated on the Grammys as well albeit for entirely different reasons.
A Grammy nomination, award or appearance on the show can significantly boost an artist’s sales, said John Ganoe, vice president of member services for the Recording Industry Association of America, the industry’s Washington-based lobbying arm.
Grammy-award winners generally see an 8 percent to 10 percent jump in record sales per week for several weeks following the broadcast. “That translates into a significant number of units,” Ganoe said. The awards also are accompanied by concerted merchandising drives at most of the nation’s large music retailers.
But industry insiders are far less concerned with whether the event is held in New York or Los Angeles, said Ganoe, who attends the Grammys and most other major music awards presentations each year.
“The recording industry is fairly evenly divided between East and West coasts,” he said. “Both cities have really pulled out the stops to support the show. But for the industry, the venue is not the principal concern.”
Dominic Hanssens, a professor of marketing at UCLA, expressed skepticism about the value of the Grammys as a marketing tool for either L.A. or New York.
“Both L.A. and New York are already such known entities, such established products, especially in the entertainment business,” Hanssens said. “If this were Talahassee, Florida, maybe but L.A.? I have to wonder.”
Added Greene: “I question whether anyone cares whether the show is in L.A. or New York, or Sioux City, Iowa for that matter. They are really just interested in a great television show.”
Such comments do little to dampen local enthusiasm for the event.
“The entertainment industry gives L.A. so much of its leadership role on the international stage,” said Cody Cluff, president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. and a key player in bringing the Grammys back to L.A. “These kinds of events are very important. If you were trying to buy that kind of publicity, it would be very, very expensive.”