With the launch of its inaugural season, the newly restored Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside has been struggling to connect with theatre patrons looking for a show and a night out on the town. Of course, a simple Google or Internet search makes getting the latest info on Fox’s shows a no-brainer, and logging on to the resulting www.riversidefoxtheatre.com or www.foxtheatreriverside.biz and checking out—wait a minute, these aren’t websites for the Fox! This website is for the California Theatre for the Performing Arts in San Bernardino. WTF?!
In an effort to increase their Internet traffic, Cal Theatre’s grassroots marketing includes buying up any domain names they can use to direct people to their website. But recently they’ve expanded to using the old name—Riverside Fox Theater—of their newest competitor. As the Fox was preparing its new website in March 2009, they noticed that almost every domain containing the words “Riverside Fox Theatre” was already purchased—turned into misleading launch pages with the heading “Welcome to the Fox Theatre” centered above a web link, picture, address and phone number for Cal Theatre. With the Fox already suffering from the economy—some shows for Broadway opener Annie have been eliminated due to disappointing ticket sales—the Cal Theatre’s website tactics remain a pesky concern for their management team, who’ve decided to go with www.foxriversidelive.com.
“It’s very frustrating that they’ve gone beyond just good business sense and buying up domain names, just falsely representing who they are to try to turn audiences,” says Charva Ingram, the City of Riverside’s Marketing Project Manager. Ingram acknowledges the spirit of competition between the two historical venues, but questions Cal Theatre’s reliance on the Fox name to generate traffic for their theater.
Despite accusations of false advertising, Cal Theatre’s operator/manager Joseph Henson insists that the Fox domain names are part of a practical business strategy and that no conflict regarding the faux Fox websites has been communicated to him directly.
“We’re always trying to do everything to make people find us, whether it’s in stores [or] on the Web,” he tells the Weekly.
However, in the spring of 2009, there was an attempt between the development directors of Riverside and San Bernardino to negotiate Riverside’s purchase of the domain names. But at that point San Bernardino’s asking price had inflated to $1,000 per domain, according to Ingram, who adds that there were about 40 to 50 domain names in question.
“We can’t spend $40,000-$50,000 dollars buying back domain names that were nowhere near that cost to begin with,” says Ingram.
But Henson says that Fox’s affiliation with Nederlander, one of the largest entertainment organizations in the U.S., gives them leverage over Cal Theatre (affiliated with Theatrical Arts International’s entertainment company) in negotiations with popular productions. However, he denies that Cal Theatre is trying to directly compete with Fox. But their purchases of web domain names like www.foxtheatreriverside.biz suggest otherwise.
“If you can take any keywords that would lead you to anything that has to do with performing arts in our area we try to [use] that,” says Henson.
Due to the amount of searches that Fox’s website has generated, the only way most people will land on one of Cal Theatre’s sites is by typing it in directly by mistake. Still, Fox’s management hopes that when the leases for the domains are up after 2010 Cal Theatre will let them go and allow the Riverside venue to buy them back for a decent price—or at least just stop using them.
“There are no hard feelings, but from our perspective it was a low blow,” says Ingram. “And they’re very strongly misrepresenting their theater by using the name ‘Fox Riverside.’ So that is a point of frustration for us, but we are moving on.”