ACM CHIEF DAMON WHITESIDE PREPARES FOR KICKOFF

Academy of Country Music CEO Damon Whiteside likes breaking ground. Not only has he moved the staunchly West Coast organization’s operations to Nashville, but he also made 2022’s 57th annual ACM Awards the first globally livestreamed awards show. Teaming with Amazon Prime Video, the man who spent six years as the Country Music Association’s VP of Marketing and over a decade in various Walt Disney Co. divisions looks to the future as a way to ensure the ACM’s legacy.

After several peripatetic awards in the pandemic era, the upbeat leader retrenches honky-tonk history by taking this year’s awards show to the Dallas CowboysFord Center in Frisco, Texas. Tapping two of country’s biggest superstars—Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks—to host, Whiteside has big things in store for ACM’s ongoing relationship with Jerry Jones’ equally iconic organization.

Talk about strategic alignment.

Country music is America’s music, and the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team. And they were so good working with the Academy in 2015. We’ve been wanting to build on that, because it is a very strategic alignment. When I arrived in 2020, the ACM had been having conversations [with the Cowboys] about working together again. It was about how we could work together—and work together more meaningfully because it’s such a great group of people.

This is more than “Let’s rent your facility.”

They’re involved in event planning, ticketing, getting information out to their fanbase. Their sponsorship arm is now our sponsorship partner for everything. They know brands and obviously our core values. We announced, then collaborated on the graphics for the show. They optimize what we’re doing. So, yes, we’re even more in business with them. We speak on a daily basis about all kinds of things, which makes it fit together as a real collaboration.

What does The Ford Center at The Star complex offer?

A venue that’s very non-traditional but gives us solid capacity and the room to do all the production. Last year at Allegiant, we had to have stages all over the place because we don’t have commercials for set changes—and we needed to fill the space up. The Star gives us a football-sized arena of 14,000 without that cavernous feel of a stadium. We have the full field. Plus, the complex allows us to do activations like the Morgan Wallen TopGolf event, free concerts out front and our songwriters show in a way that makes it a campus. The red carpet, the after-show—it’s all the same area.

Plus country music and Texas.

Definitely. The people who live there love country music. There are two Country stations—and a real hunger for this kind of event from the state level on down. We’re going to take over the city of Frisco, which is a hard thing to do in Vegas, where it’s so spread out.

This is big like Amazon.

We’re even on Thursday night, like their Thursday Night Football livestreams. Amazon was fully supportive. This is a great piece of programming for the platform, plus it’s a better experience for the artists and industry, which they care about.

This is a global footprint. It’s 240 territories around the world simultaneously, plus all the other ways you can view this show. Two hours of commercial-free, wall-to-wall music. No one leaves the venue, no pre-tapes, so it’s gonna move fast.

Big like Dolly and Garth.

She’s a brand; he’s a brand. Dolly is returning to host, which is incredible. Who says no to Dolly? Garth’s never hosted an awards show, but he raised his hand and wanted to be part of this. There are no bigger stars in the world—not just in country music—and their chemistry at the promo shoot was awesome.

What are your goals?

Because we’re not leashed to Nielsen numbers, we think about this differently. Number one: We want to continue increasing engagement across all the social platforms, whether it’s Radio Row, the DSPs and media visibility. More streaming lifts, social-media response, social discovery, more artist discovery. There are so many ways to measure the connection and reaction. We want all of them to grow.

Number two: the artist experience. It’s the honor of winning the awards, and all that work, the respect and love of your peers, plus the legacy of the awards. The artists support us, so it’s important they feel valued. We want to make it a great show and experience that super-serves everyone.

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