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SF Weekly-Warfield Deal Leaves Bay Guardian Singing a Sour Note By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday July 12, 2005

A marriage between two national media chains has apparently deprived the San Francisco Bay Guardian of one of its top advertisers. 

Bill Graham Presents, the Bay Area’s largest concert venue operator and a subsidiary of media conglomerate Clear Channel Entertainment, informed the Guardian three weeks ago that a sponsorship agreement with competitor New Times means it will no longer be placing ads in the independent weekly, said Guardian Executive Editor Tim Redmond. 

“This is a case of the big chain trying to stick it to the little guy,” he said. “It’s so frustrating because they won’t play fair.” 

The deal with New Times, the Phoenix, Ariz.-based publisher of 11 alternative weekly papers, including the Guardian’s chief competitors, SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, calls for New Times to pay Clear Channel a six-figure sum as part of a three-year deal to rename San Francisco’s Warfield Theater “The SF Weekly Warfield.” 

The deal also requires BGP to boost advertising in New Times papers. Redmond said the deal leaves little or no money to advertise in the Bay Guardian or other local papers. BGP had previously advertised in both the Guardian and New Times papers, as well as the San Jose Metro and the San Francisco Chronicle. 

SF Weekly’s Publisher Chris Keating called Redmond’s claim “just more Guardian rhetoric.” 

“We would never require [exclusive advertising rights],” he said. “BGP can put ads wherever they want.” 

Bill Graham Presents President Lee Smith said the company decided to cancel advertising with the Bay Guardian only after the paper wrote an article bashing the deal. “I don’t think I’m inclined to advertise in a publication that reports things so unfairly towards us,” he said.  

Smith added that while the contract does call on the company to spend more money advertising in New Times papers, Clear Channel expected to continue running ads in the Chronicle and San Jose Metro. BGP ads continued to run in the Bay Guardian this week under a contract that is set to expire shortly, Redmond said. 

New Times has signed several naming rights deals with concert venue operators around the country, none of which led to competing papers losing advertising, said Kurtis Barton, publisher of the Phoenix New Times.  

“The more people who come to our sponsored venues the better it is for us,” he said. “Every time they put our name in the Bay Guardian, that’s marketing.” 

Redmond said BGP had been one of the Bay Guardian’s top 10 advertisers, but declined to disclose how much money the paper stood to lose without them. 

“It’s a big chunk of change, but we’ll survive,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with this kind of anti-competitive behavior for years.”  

The Guardian has a pending lawsuit against New Times charging that SF Weekly has purposely sold ads below cost to win advertisers away from the Guardian and drive it out of business. Redmond said the case could go to trial next summer. 

The two alternative weeklies have also attacked each other in their editorial pages. The Weekly mocks the more left-leaning Guardian for its politics, while the Bay Guardian insists that SF Weekly is a cutthroat chain publication with no connection to the Bay Area. 

In 2003, the Bay Guardian reported on a deal between New Times and Village Voice Media to end competition in Los Angeles and Cleveland. New Times closed its Los Angeles paper, giving Village Voice Media a monopoly in free weeklies there, while VVM closed its Cleveland paper, giving New Times a monopoly in that market. 

The Justice Department filed an anti-trust suit against the two companies and obtained a settlement forcing them to sell the assets of the closed papers to outside groups interested in reopening the papers. 

Clear Channel is the biggest player on the local entertainment scene. It owns seven Bay Area radio stations and books concerts at the Warfield, Filmore, Shoreline Amphitheater, Chronicle Pavilion and Mountain Winery. 

Berkeley’s two major concert venues, the Greek Theater and the Community Theater, recently switched booking agents from Clear Channel to the Berkeley-based Another Planet Entertainment, owned by former BGP executives. 

Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, Tex., maintains close ties to Republican politicians, and has been criticized by free speech advocates for prior actions. Following the Sept. 11., 2001 terrorist attacks, the company briefly banned dozens of songs from its airwaves including “Peace Train,” by Cat Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam.  

Last year, Berkeley-based Project Billboard sued a Clear Channel subsidiary that controls much of Manhattan’s top billboard space when the company balked at the group’s design: An American flag-patterned bomb with the caption, “Democracy Is Best Taught By Example, Not War.” The group ultimately replaced the bomb with a dove and agreed to move the message from the top of the Mariott Marquis, which opposed the political banner being placed above its Times Square Hotel.