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Tower cuts its ties with NBR NZ Opera

By Duncan Bridgeman

Friday 28th March 2003

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Troubled Tower Ltd has pulled out of its long-running sponsorship of the NBR New Zealand Opera but denied it is quitting the rest of its highly regarded arts sponsorship programme.

The company confirmed yesterday the current winter season featuring Boris Godunov will be its final association with the opera after 11 years of sponsorship.

Tower's exit leaves The National Business Review as the only major sponsor of North Island opera companies.

Tower spokeswoman Karyn Fenton referred all comment to the NBR NZ Opera chairman David Gascoigne, who downplayed the significance of Tower's exit.

"We have all the sponsors we need for this year and we are well placed for reclaiming and securing new ones for the coming year," he said.

Ms Fenton gave no explanation for Tower's pullout except that the company had reviewed its sponsorship. "We try and support as many organisations as we possibly can but obviously can't support every organisation."

It is understood intense negotiations are under way over Tower's contract with the opera. Sources said the company had paid out only half its full-year contract and might be forced into coughing up the rest despite wanting to end its association.

Mr Gascoigne said Tower had fulfilled its contract and was parting on friendly terms.

Tower, as always, would not disclose its sponsorship budget.

The company has been pummelled in the market since reporting a net loss after tax of $74.9 million for the year ended September 30, compared with a profit the previous year of $77.2 million.

Former chief executive James Boonzaier, an avid opera fan, walked out late last year after failing to revive the company's faltering image and falling share price.

Yesterday, Ms Fenton scotched rumours that Tower was also considering backing out of its other arts sponsorships. The company sponsors, among others, the Tower New Zealand Youth Choir and Tower Voices New Zealand, the Tower Gallery at Te Papa and the upcoming Christchurch Arts Festival and is a gold sponsor of the New Zealand Festival next year.

Its exit from NBR New Zealand Opera is likely to raise pulses there over where future sponsorship will come from.

Obvious potentials include Team New Zealand's so-called family of five sponsors which could now be without a client after the America's Cup went back offshore.

However, it is unlikely they will be interested in committing themselves at this early stage.

There are also fears in some circles that the government might come to the party with another rescue package to prop up the opera.

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