- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

What’s a name worth? For pro-sports stadiums, the answer is about $2.7 million a year. That’s the average price of a corporate-speak name like “M&T; Bank” or “PSINet.” The District is reportedly getting an amount slightly lower that in the deal for “Armed Forces Field at RFK Stadium” it announced yesterday. If that seems underwhelming, it’s not. Unlike other aspects of the baseball deal, D.C. officials have played the market about as well as they could in this case. Not to mention the boost the deal gives the military.

On an annual basis, the three-year deal the District inked exceeds what sponsors are paying for decades of name recognition in Detroit (Ford Field, $1 million yearly through 2042) and about equals the price in Philadelphia (Citizens Bank Park, $2.3 million through 2028). The days of getting $6 million or $7 million a year for naming rights aren’t over, but certainly Daniel Snyder’s 1999 coup of $7.6 million per year through 2025 for FedEx Field was exceptional. Only Houston’s Reliant Stadium ($10 million through 2032) and Atlanta’s Phillips Arena ($9.3 million through 2019) get more.

So, the District stands to gain between $6 million and $7 million, money Mayor Tony Williams says the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission will use for the much-needed task of fixing up athletic fields and recreation centers around the District. That’s all to the good. Too bad, however, that the kind of thinking that went into the sponsorship deal wasn’t around last year. This money is a tiny fraction of what the District handed to Major League Baseball last year to lure the Washington Nationals to town. We’ll have a better idea of precisely how tiny a fraction when D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi issues his second cost analysis for stadium construction and infrastructure next month. But even to judge by the $440 million to $584 million estimates city officials put forward last fall, it’s quite small. Had the mayor’s all-public-financing stadium plan not met stiff resistance by D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp and others, it would be even smaller.

Ironically, the giveaway to baseball extends to naming rights, too — not for RFK, but for the new waterfront stadium that will be the Nats’ permanent home. Among the plum takings by Major League Baseball is the right to sell the stadium’s name to whomever the team owner pleases. Thus, any loss-cutting revenue a corporate sponsorship might have yielded D.C. will end up not in city coffers, but in the pockets of the Nats’ yet-to-be-determined boss.

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