In a town full of big name money managers,Eaton Vance had remained decidedly low-profile.
Not anymore. On Tuesday, the venerable Boston firm said it would be the presenting sponsor of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, starting this Fourth of July, stepping up after corporate support for the beloved four-decade tradition on the Esplanade dried up.
Eaton Vance manages billions of dollars — perhaps some of it in your 401(k) in the form of mutual funds. The firm supports a variety of charitable causes, from the United Way to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund, but nothing puts the company in the spotlight like this.
“This is the only one we support that has ‘spectacular’ in its name,” quipped Eaton Vance chairman and CEO Tom Faust Jr.
The mutual fund business is tough — especially when you compete with the 800-pound gorillas of the sector like Fidelity Investments, which is already a major sponsor of the Pops. So is Eaton Vance backing the Pops fireworks concert as a new way to attract customers?
No, Faust said. Simply put, Eaton Vance is stepping up because Boston has been the company’s home since 1924, and it’s time to give back in a big way.
“We don’t view this as a major marketing move for us,” Faust said. “Primarily, it’s our way of giving back to the community and our way of celebrating America’s birthday.”
The agreement with the Pops will span three years, with an option to renew for another two. Neither Eaton Vance nor the Pops would disclose the value of the deal. The Boston insurer Liberty Mutual, the main sponsor for 11 years until 2015, spent a total of about $25 million.
Corporations underwrite the concert so it can be free to the public, and besides Eaton Vance, the Pops signed on Bloomberg LP, the New York financial information and news provider, as a major sponsor and a media partner of the fireworks concert. The value of itsthree-year deal was not disclosed, but Bloomberg will also broadcast the three-hour concert on cable TV, radio, and online.
Bloomberg jumped on board because the organization wanted to help promote the arts, a passion of Michael Bloomberg, a Medford native who founded the company and served three terms as mayor of New York City. Bloomberg continues to run the company and has become a major philanthropist; last fall, he donated $50 million to the Museum of Science. Bloomberg TV, a cable channel, reaches 437 million homes globally.
“The Boston Pops Independence Day celebration is a great American tradition in a city where so much American history has been made,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “We’re glad to support it, and to help bring it to more people across the country and around the world.”
What a difference a year makes. The fate of the fireworks concert, which draws half a million people to the area, was up in the air, with longtime organizer David Mugar set to retire after 43 years. He had no successor or corporate backer for the 2016 event. Ultimately Mugar, a philanthropist, ended up footing the $2 million bill himself for his last show in July.
Then in October, the Pops said it would take over the Fourth of July celebration from Mugar’s production company and assumed responsibility for finding financial backers. The Pops made a lot of sense, given that the tradition started as a collaboration in 1974 between then-conductor Arthur Fiedler and Mugar, who suggested playing Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” during an Esplanade concert. Mugar added fireworks, howitzer cannons, and church bells.
Soon after taking the reins, the Pops began fielding calls from about five companies that wanted to learn more about underwriting one of the city’s signature events, said Kim Noltemy, chief operating and communications officer for Boston Symphony Orchestra Inc., the nonprofit umbrella organization that supports the Pops, the BSO, Symphony Hall, and Tanglewood.
Noltemy said the companies represented a range of industries, including hospitality, technology and consumer goods. Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, who is building a casino in Everett, had expressed interest last summer but did not follow up in the fall, Noltemy said.
“We only talked to him briefly,” said Noltemy, who added that Wynn supports other Pops programs.
The deal with Eaton Vance came together by November. The Boston firm has supported the Pops and its related organizations for two decades, but not at this level. The Pops then talked to about five media outlets about serving as a broadcast partner before settling on Bloomberg.
Mugar had struggled to find a corporate sponsor because companies no longer like to back single-day marketing events. Noltemy thinks the Pops had an easier time because it could offer year-round exposure for potential sponsors.
“Under the umbrella of the BSO, we had a wide net of relationships,” she said. “All these companies are barraged, and people want their money all the time . . . part of it is getting into the door.”
With a new organizer and sponsors, should listeners and viewers expect anything different from this year’s concert?
Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, who will be doing his 23rd show on the Esplanade, thinks so. In his mind, the 2017 event will be a return to the celebration’s roots, with the focus on the music of the Pops.
Of course, there will be headline acts — pop sensation Andy Grammer, folk-rock singer Melissa Etheridge, and a cast member from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” were announced on Tuesday — but artistic control rests firmly with the Pops.
“I am saying this with all the appropriate respect,” said Lockhart, but “we’ve always had concern about the number of masters that had to be served.”
All television viewers, for example, will now be able to watch the entire “1812 Overture” — not just a snippet. “We are not beholden to the same commercial concerns,” he said.
Still, Lockhart feels the pressure to put on a show like no other. The deals are in place only for three years.
“We hope to produce a show so memorable that there will never be a question if it is fundable,” he said.