Move over Coppertone girl: The face of sun lotion in Miami could be getting a South Beach makeover.
In an attempt to squeeze every last buck out of the beach and its, ahem, assets, Miami Beach representatives are currently in discussions with sunblock corporations to sell licensing rights for the official sunscreen of South Beach.
Negotiations aren’t so much burning as they are warm. But talks remain very hush-hush.
“These companies don’t like to negotiate out in the public,” said Assistant City Manager Max Sklar, who declined to identify the two interested parties.
The push for a sunscreen licensing deal is part of a growing wave of municipal branding and sponsorship agreements born in an era of plummeting property tax income. While private companies have been selling “intellectual property” such as naming rights for years — think Sun Life Stadium, a title purchased by Sun Life Financial for $7 million a year — cities from Phoenix to Cleveland, and even Miami-Dade County have taken interest in luring corporate sponsors with public resources.
Two years ago, Miami Beach hired contractor The Superlative Group to pursue commercial sponsors and partners to help boost public coffers. The company is armed with a list of the Beach’s sellable assets, which literally assigns dollar signs to everything from the city’s iconic lifeguard stands to parking pay stations and trash cans.
“Your brand is worth a lot,” Superlative Group president Myles Gallagher told Miami Beach officials in January 2010 when they hired his company.
So far, it has been worth about $7 million, the price Coca-Cola paid to become the official nonalcoholic drink of Miami Beach. Such deals work when the product and the brand, in this case the Miami Beach name, are complimentary, said Arun Sharma, a professor in the University of Miami’s marketing department.
And that’s the case in an agreement to create a Miami Beach sunblock, he said.
For one, Miami Beach already has a history in the sunblock industry.
It was Miami Beach pharmacist Benjamin Green who in the 40s invented the suntan formula purchased by Coppertone, which maintains a presence in Miami with its historic sign on Biscayne Boulevard and 73rd Street of a cocker spaniel tugging at a young girl’s swim bottoms. (The company moved on to sell sunblock after the dangers of sun exposure were revealed.)
The city also has a decades-old history of marketing babes on the beach, known affectionately as cheesecake — though whether the face of a Miami Beach sunblock would look more like a Kardashian than a toddler remains to be seen.
South Beach is also a tourist Mecca, so the free brand affiliation carries value.
“Now, if you say it’s the official sunblock of Kendall, that won’t really help,” Sharma said.
Plus, the city would get a cut of the sales, though the percentage hasn’t yet been negotiated, Sklar said.
Sharma, however, said instances of municipalities dabbling in licensing deals and corporate sponsorships remain uncommon.
“The reason is, cities don’t run like businesses,” he said. “There’s always an instinctive backlash against city and commercial interests.”
Initially, Miami Beach’s corporate dealings went off without a hitch. Commissioners approved the Coca-Cola deal with little criticism.
But the opposite happened when Carnival Corp. was wooed to rename South Pointe Park, which lies at the mouth of Government Cut and is visible to every cruise liner that passes in and out of PortMiami. When word got out that Miami Beach officials were considering the deal, civic and neighborhood groups pushed back.
“Selling public land for naming rights or using public land for commercial purposes to make up deficits created by elected officials is an unacceptable practice in the City of Miami Beach,” civic group Miami Beach United wrote in a message to city officials.
Carnival then announced, without an explanation, that it had walked away from negotiations.
But the debate continues. Still on the table are naming rights to SoundScape, the high-tech park next to the New World Center where locals and visitors gather for WallCasts.
“Is everything for sale in our city?” asked former Miami Beach Commissioner Victor Diaz Jr.
He and Sklar will discuss the subject at 5:30 p.m. Thursday during a Miami Beach United forum at the Miami Beach Golf Club, 2301 Alton Rd.
Sklar said no commercial partnerships will be pursued without consent from the city’s elected officials.
And that’s no lock, said Mayor Matti Herrera Bower , who said she is uncomfortable with selling the naming rights to any city park.
“There are certain things that you just don’t sell,” she said.