Delta Ends Theater Sponsorship Over Performance Critical of Donald Trump

Delta provides funding for charitable causes in communities where it wants to buy goodwill from customers. And it uses that funding as leverage. But the moment that the funding is controversial? The hot money disappears.

Delta provided donations to the storied Fox Theater in Atlanta for 20 years but then the theater rented space to Qatar Airways for a route launch party and Delta promptly pulled its support.

This non-profit theater rents out its space for private functions. And Qatar rented the space. So Delta is pulled funds from the Atlanta landmark after 20 years because they felt Qatar’s CEO was rude to them after Delta’s then-CEO blamed Qatar for 9/11. Delta was miffed because the non-profit they support didn’t call them in advance about a group that would be renting space in the theater for an event.

Stock photo copyright: f11photo

Last year Delta elbowed Alaska Airlines out of the Seattle Pride Parade and this year pushed United out of the New York Pride Parade. They insist that their sponsorship dollars carry category exclusivity, which isn’t unusual except for parades that are supposed to be about inclusiveness.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that:

  • Delta funds cultural activities in New York, where they’re trying to position themselves as the hometown airline.

  • Shakespeare at the Park there tried something new — a modern update to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where characters wore modern clothes.

  • In their production Caesar bore an apparent resemblance to Donald Trump, and his wife in the product had a Slavic accent.

  • People complained, though of course Brutus is rejected by the people of Rome rather than being celebrated for killing Caesar (and indeed, Mark Anthony is a closer analogue to Trump than is Caesar).

Rather than standing by their support of New York arts, they’ve yanked their giving.

Regardless of your political affiliation, though, art sometimes challenges and offends rather than merely just entertaining. Sometimes art also doesn’t work, that’s the nature of experimentation. The one thing that art isn’t supposed to be is ‘safe’.

Here Delta has cast their lot politically with Donald Trump believing it will get them government support for higher airfares and less competition. That ‘trumps’ their desire to inculcate support from New Yorkers.

If you seek support from Delta Airlines for artistic projects, know that it’s fickle and will use its support to reward or punish artistic choices based on its own political tastes.

That’s their right of course, but since the whole point of their charitable exercise is to portray themselves as a part of, and supporters of, the community (ironic, isn’t it, that ‘bread and circuses’ originates in Rome) it’s worth looking at just how they approach that.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary, either you are incredibly naive or simply have a warped sense of reality. Sponsors do these things every single day. They do them to pander to one segment or another of the population, they do them over real or imagined “corporate values”, they do them out of petty vindictiveness. Nice of you to go all whiny little bitch about it.

  2. Is it asking too much for Delta to at least read the Cliff’s Notes of Julius Caesar? THIs modern version is much more in support of Trump than opposed to him.

    After all, the killing of Caesar by seven senators is a complete disaster for Rome.

    I’m not saying there isn’t room for criticism. For instance, Shakespeare’s Caesar is a war hero that turned down the chance to become emperor three times before reluctantly accepting it. That’s not Trump.

  3. Gary, you are the master of understatement — and I do not mean that in a complimentary way.

    “Critical” of Donald Trump, you say?

    Nah, for those who have forgotten, or those who just don’t know, Julius Caesar does, indeed, bear a striking resemblance to the Donald. And, by the way, for confirming the definite bias, by also advising that his wife speaks with a Slavic accent — something that many news reports have left out.

    I digress.

    For those who have forgotten or never knew, there is a long and bloody assassination scene in Julius Caesar whereby Caesar is knifed by many of his erstwhile friends and supporters.

    Et tu Comey — I’ll give you “honest loyalty”, indeed!

    Coming on the heels of Kathy Griffin’s “artful” performance and the crying about being bullied by the Trump family for her tasteless actions, Delta rightly pulled its support.

    I wonder what you would have said to a a caricature of Obama being lynched??

    Leave your politics out of the blog, it would be better for it.

  4. I applaud DL. They are smarter than you think.

    Royally pissing off half your potential customer base over stupid nonsense crap like this is nuts.

    The NY Times is starting to figure this out as they slide toward bankruptcy.

  5. Anyone who wants to criticize Delta or any corporation for how they choose to direct their charitable giving is welcome to step in and replace it.

  6. I don’t blame them. “Art” doesn’t have to offend to be good. I could care less but if I pay to sponsor something and it becomes offensive then I would not longer want to support that.

  7. Actually Delta sponsored NYC Pride for many years. Long before United. I hope everyone knows that companies pay to sponsor NYC Pride?

  8. Here come the Trump snowflakes with their thin skins. Predictable. Dare not criticize The Orange Blowhard they scream, or they’ll threaten to unsubscribe (but never seem to follow thru, unfortunately).


  9. It is also true that “artists” need to accept the consequences of their actions. Sucks to have to grow up….

  10. Gary, I’m very strongly against Trump, and appreciate your illuminating the positions Delta has taken. Still, I’m not sure I agree with you on this one. Yes, the overall message of JC might be against political violence. But it nonetheless depicts the bloody assassination of a character portrayed as very similar to Trump, a scene and notion we don’t need injected into our politics. As someone else already pointed out, if a play depicted the lynching of Obama (or the killing of either Clinton or either Bush) for that matter, we might find it highly problematic. I know I would. The same applies to depicting the assassination of Trump or a Trump-like character.

  11. Breaking news from NYT:
    “Gary Leff donated all his “hard earned” points and miles to Shakespeare at the Park”

    Go Delta! (said with Slavic accent)

  12. Kudos to you, Steve!

    You get it.

    I support the people left behind who Trump appeals to — and who he has championed — not the rough edges and unfortunate self-indulgence of the man, himself. However, he does appear to be more committed than most pols to try to help his base — and I applaud him for it, even though I am not from it — indeed, quite the contrary.

    Moreover, I very much enjoy transposing operas from the time and place they originally were written to other venues, however, this is beyond the pale.

    It is quite hypocritical for the Left to complain of the “hate speech” of certain right wing provocateurs, but think it fine to foist this political assassination upon us.

    I’m glad that at least some on the other side of the political spectrum have not lost their senses or decorum.

  13. Funny how in the era of President Obama, all the deplorables felt he was a dictator.

    But that was then, now they all support the dic-tator and find political correctness to be important.

  14. Gary- I’m as cynical about Corporate moves like this as the next guy, but it’s pretty well apparent your dislike for Trump is clouding your judgment here. Your matter-of-fact claim that Delta’s pulling support for this theatre is “casting their lot” with the Trump admin for political favors comes off as particularly laughable. Could DL not have simply witnessed the career-ending backlash against Kathy Griffin and decided associating with a performance in a similar vein and right on the heels of that episode was a PR risk they just weren’t willing to take? Like I said I am more than game to be cynical about DL (and all the US majors frankly), but it seems there is a much simpler explanation here.

  15. @Art – aren’t they hilarious and entertaining? Here’s some popcorn and beer.

  16. “If you seek support from Delta Airlines for artistic projects, know that it’s fickle and will use its support to reward or punish artistic choices based on its own political tastes.”
    First of all, you make it sound as if Delta is the rare exception to some fantasy norm you’ve created. Please show us any corporation that doesn’t give and take their support (punish?!) of whomever and whatever they please, whenever they please. (I think we call this the Free Market.)
    Secondly, how do you know it was purely their “political tastes” that caused the ending of support? It couldn’t have been that they felt this was an insidious form of hate speech in the guise of a literary work regardless of whose politics is being hated on? Maybe this was a decision based not on political taste, but simply good taste? Of course not. You’ve decided why they did it. You know their hearts. Impressive talent you have their Gary.
    And why do I think nearly every blog on the internet would be cheering Delta and bullying/shaming every other corporation who refused to withdraw their support had this been a depiction of Obama meeting a grisly end.
    You may want to look in the mirror as you lecture others on doing business based on their political tastes. If only we could all just be concerned with good taste and leave the politics out.

  17. If they are offending Trump and his supporters then it’s worth losing their sponsorship. Delta can spend it’s money as it sees fit. I have no doubt someone will step in and contribute.

  18. Does no one question why they bothered to sponsor this in the first place? Instead most are saying “it’s their right”. A large Corp like delta wouldn’t have jumped into this without knowing something about the group or their style or performances (if that was the case, they can only blame themselves.)

  19. First, the headline here is intentionally misleading. Gary, you understand as well as anyone that the salient point here is not that the performance was critical of Trump, but rather, that it was depicting his assassination. To suggest Delta pulled sponsorship just because of some “criticism” is willfully deceitful, and makes one wonder whether you can be trusted with your interpretation of other news stories.

    Second, Shakespeare in the Park is and should be free to depict anything they want. I am all for artistic freedom as well. But do you really think Delta Airlines should endorsing and funding the presidential assassination porn made by and for some deranged lefties? Republicans fly Delta too you know. And if the case was reversed, and this was a depiction of Obama and not Trump, would you honestly be arguing for unrestricted sponsorship, or would you instead be outraged that such a hateful group was sponsored by Delta in the first place?

  20. “Such a hateful group”. LOL. The theatre group will get the last laugh here. They have already received more free publicity from this than they could have possibly hoped for.

  21. Imagine what would have happened if some group had done this o Obama! The left would be yelling about racism and hate and calling for higher taxes and more wealth redistribution. Lol

  22. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” – The Shadow

    Gary, it’s been quite a revelation about the views of large portions of your readership recently, hasn’t it? Used to be a minority, now seems to be the large majority of commentary on anything remotely political. Kudos on your continuing professionalism and continuing to call it as you see it.

  23. Ya know, I have a hard time feeling bad for these folks though. It’s kinda like trying to be a comedian whose material is about ridiculing club owners that hire comedians. They wanted their art to be all controversial…well, congrats, mission accomplished. Wouldn’t want to compromise the art for the sake of corporate sponsorship. lol.

  24. Hopefully I can get View From the Wing to underwrite my reimagining of Richard III; where Richard is replaced by a deformed Barack Obama lookalike & Richmond is represented by a lynch mob. It’s just an experimental work of art afterall.

  25. @dbeach

    Well this play is in Central Park (as opposed to a theater at an obscure school); open to anyone in the public; touts Ceasar as a definite villain whose death is to be celebrated (unlike the school play who casts the tea party Brutus as a villain); adds a bloody level of public violence to the play that is not present in other versions; etc etc

    I hope you can see any comparison you’re insinuating is clearly off the mark

  26. What do you expect from Trump supporters? They have the IQ of a turkey. As a matter of fact most turkeys are smarter.

  27. @Slovim: to say that Shakespeare in the Park is open to everyone is a bit of an exaggeration: they’re open to everyone who is willing to show up at 6 am to queue for tickets, or even sleep on the sidewalk overnight (or pay $200 for a sponsor ticket, or get lucky in the lottery). It’s true, though, that in the theater’s more than 60 years in existence they’ve earned a high profile for daring productions of the classics. Or envelope-pushing new works like HAIR, which freaked out the multitudes (hippies! sex drugs rock’n’roll! nudity!)

    This whole thing reminds me of then-Mayor Giuliani’s efforts to get the Brooklyn Museum to remove Andres Serano’s art work because he was personally offended. Different story but both about censorship. Delta and BOA, both long-time supporters of the Public Theater, appear cowardly by taking this position. But I guess America is now ruled by corporations who function at the pleasure of a Central Committee.

    And yes, the point of the work is that the assassination was a failed “solution” that drove the country into chaos. No attendee would miss by leaving at intermission, because there is no intermission.

  28. LOL at Gary’s growing TDS.
    Any bets that he’d have been one of the first to support DL and BOA if the play was about his idol, the Kenyan?

  29. I usually do not like to comment on anything that strikes of political. However, I will weigh in here. I live in New York and am a strong supporter of the arts. I go to about 20 shows a year. I do not have a problem with the content of the play, it is art. If this play was run in Public Theater & Joe’s Pub in Astor Square (same organization that puts on Shakespeare in the Park) or on Broadway, it would not be an issue. Further, I am sure it will get standing ovations from the strongly anti-Trump majority in New York City. New York Times and CNN have already applauded and they have global reach.

    Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is irresponsible for Shakespeare in the Park to put this strongly political play. Why? Because Shakespeare in the Park is the most famous public theater in the world. It is in and of itself a strong argument for tax-payer support of the theater and the arts.

    Yet, tax payer support of the theater and arts is under assault by the right wing. The right wing believes that such funding is thinly disguised tax payer of left wing agenda. In his budget (which will not be passed) Trump is trying to defund tax-payer support of the arts for this reason. Cruz, who ran second in the Republican party was also for defunding the arts. Personally, I fear that the backlash of such a strong political statement in Shakespeare the Park, will reduce public support for tax-payer funding the arts. Tax-payer support for the arts should be bi-partisan. However, this play, in Shakespeare in the Park, the most visible theater in the world, will make it more difficult to obtain votes for arts funding from the right wing. Such funding, which should be bi-partisan, will become increasingly a left wing agenda item. This irresponsible play will be now be front and center of the political debate to defund the arts. The left wing so far has not been able to win all elections and I believe this irresponsible play puts tax-payer support of the arts at risk.

  30. I am pleased to hear that DL pulled support of the horrendous Shakespeare in the park performance called art! The left has been pushing the envelope far too long, Kathy Griffin found out the hard way it will no longer be tolerated! I hope this serves as notice that in today’s world such things are not “funny” and should be acceptable as just the artists interpretation or his or hers creativity?

  31. These right wing nut jobs that are so critical of the arts and theatre need to get a life. If you don’t like the play don’t go see it and if Delta doesn’t want to support them they can do what they please with their cash. Are these people as outraged about the horrific comments made by people like Ted Nugent or Franklin Graham? I doubt it. It’s all a bunch of phony outrage by a bunch of selfish people.
    I hope they all get stuck in the middle row of coach on United’s LAX to Singapore non-stop flight and it gets delayed an extra 4 hours.

  32. Mark claims that Gary is trolling everyone, yet it’s Mark who keeps returning with silly personal attacks.

    It’s pretty clear who the troll is.

  33. Gary: All support is fickle and most seeks to advance its own case. That is why a plurality of funding sources is important for artistic freedom.

  34. What the theatre is doing is just plain wrong! No matter what your political beliefs are, although I voted for Trump he is not my favorite person. If it was during Obama’s presidency the left would be calling for federal prosecution of the theatre people and would be right in doing so. Had the murderer of Benghazi staff been elected, yes the low life piece of garbage Hillary it would have been wrong for the theatre to do so against her as well. Hillary and Obama are both disgusting, treasonous pieces of shit.

    No matter what ones personal feeling are it is wrong to publicly call or promote the murder of a set in president. There are laws against it rightly so.

    Anyone here who does think so is truly naïve and needs to go live in remote Afghanistan, china or North Korea for a few a while.

  35. No, Gary, the NYPT engaged in assassination porn, and Delta (and B of A) were both sane enough not to want to have anything to do with that.

    Good for them.

    If NYPT wanted to be “edgy” and “challenge their audience with art”, they would have made Caesar look like Obama, not Trump.

    But that would have taken actual courage.

    And it’s one thing to challenge the bourgeois, it’s an entirely different thing to “challenge” the bien pensant. Demand that they question their beliefs, and you lose a lot of sponsorships and ticket sales.

    Can’t have that!

  36. I heard the Brutus character had poorly done hair plugs and bore and apparent resemblance to Senator Shumer, no one seems to be complaining about this…

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