- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission is pursuing a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal that would give a new name to RFK Stadium.

The commission is soliciting companies to bid on a corporate-sponsorship package that provides status as the “primary sponsor” of the stadium named in honor of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Corporate signs will be posted on the building’s facade and in the parking lot and, perhaps, additional signs will be put up inside the facility.

The name “RFK Stadium” will not be replaced; rather, the name of a corporation likely will precede it. The commission is strongly leaning toward placing a corporation’s name in front of the words “Field at RFK Stadium.”

The home of the National Football League’s Denver Broncos used a similar construction, “Invesco Field at Mile High,” to combine a sponsor’s name with a traditional name that was a fan favorite.

The commission hopes to have the deal and a new name in place for the home opener of the Washington Nationals on April 14.

Commission officials are seeking $1.5 million to $2 million per year for a deal that would run the duration of the three years the Nationals plan to use RFK Stadium. A portion of that money would go to D.C. youth and recreation facilities.

“All aspects of this sponsorship will continue the legacy of RFK, and we also intend to honor his legacy at the [Nationals’] new stadium,” said Mark Tuohey, sports commission chairman. “This program is an adjunct to the RFK name.”

A newspaper ad soliciting bids for the sponsorship stated that a goal of the sponsorship is to “maintain the stadium’s historically significant identity as a Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.”

Nonetheless, the move represents a marked and historic shift for the facility that until 1969 was known as D.C. Stadium. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall renamed the stadium for Mr. Kennedy after he was assassinated.

“I don’t think this is going to be received very well. The Kennedy family is very proud of this name,” said Frank Mankowitz, former press secretary for Mr. Kennedy and now a District-based public relations executive. “I’m not happy about this.”

Members of the Kennedy family could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Tuohey said sports commission and D.C. officials consulted with the Kennedy family before deciding to solicit bids. They declined to provide details of those talks.

“The Kennedys are enthusiastic about the benefits of this program,” Mr. Tuohey said.

Five companies have expressed interest in the sponsorship — Mr. Tuohey declined to name them — and the commission expects to make its choice in the next three weeks.

The projected annual payments are less than the $2 million to $6 million per year typically reaped from sponsorship deals by operators of other Major League Baseball stadiums.

However, the RFK sponsorship does not include long-term naming rights or a package of high-end luxury suites that usually accompany such deals.

Meanwhile, the commission’s efforts to select an architect for the new Nationals stadium in Southeast continue to drag on. A public announcement of the choice is not expected until next week. HOK Sports remains the favorite, but the selection process is now more than three weeks behind schedule.

Natwar Gandhi, the District’s chief financial officer, also plans to release next week his revised estimate on the land acquisition and environmental remediation costs for the stadium site, as well as a new analysis of two offers of private financing for the ballpark.

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