- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A seemingly dead sponsorship deal between the National Guard and the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission to rename RFK Stadium is now close to revival after a series of high-level negotiations conducted late yesterday at the behest of Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican.

The home of the Washington Nationals and D.C. United will not be renamed National Guard Field at RFK Stadium, as was agreed to last weekend in a three-year, $6.62 million deal. But amid negotiations stretching deep into last night and set to resume this morning, city officials, Warner and Pentagon officials are now working on some other type of military theme for the name, perhaps one involving the entire armed forces. The stadium will continue to bear the name of Robert F. Kennedy.

Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, strongly objected to the original National Guard sponsorship deal, believing it was not an efficient use of taxpayer money to boost flagging enlistment into the service. But after a two-hour, closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill involving District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, several top leaders from the National Guard and Pentagon, and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Warner struck a far more upbeat tone.

“I’m optimistic we can reach a meeting of the minds,” Warner said. “There is definitely a potential here.”

None of the principals involved specified field names now being considered. But some type of deal is expected to be announced today because any type of naming rights pact will rely heavily on substantial exposure from tomorrow night’s Nationals home opener.

President Bush, himself a former National Guard soldier, will throw out the first pitch for the game, heightening already frenetic interest in the first official game in the District for a Washington baseball team since 1971.

District officials intend to use much of the money from the naming rights pact for city youth and recreation facilities, with the Greater Washington Sports Alliance additionally to receive a portion of the funds.

The back-and-forth negotiations, however, have been far more complicated than anything the sports commission envisioned. The National Guard deal originally was set to be announced yesterday, but Guard leaders said the stadium naming needed to be scrapped in order to focus on “higher priority funding issues,” with the sports commission conversely claiming possession of a signed contract.

The National Guard, as well as other divisions of the military, conducts numerous sports-related sponsorships as a means to boost recruitment. But the military has not purchased any type of commercial naming rights to a sports facility.

And still very much at issue is the National Guard’s refusal to pay for the entire sponsorship, particularly given the quickly growing unrest within the Guard over insufficient supplies for soldiers fighting in Iraq.

“We won’t be buying this sponsorship. That would send the wrong message, that we’re not putting our key priorities first,” said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “I’d rather use that money on things like re-enlistment bonuses. We’ll have to see what happens. There are a number of ideas being thrown around.”

Also complicating the talks is the role of the Nationals, who were not represented in the Warner meeting yesterday on Capitol Hill. In the original National Guard deal, roughly two-thirds of the funds were going to the sports commission for the primary sponsorship, with the rest going to the team through the purchase of supplementary ads within the stadium.

“We’re trying to create a situation where the city gets what it wants and the National Guard and the military get what they want and we can all walk out of this winners,” said Vince Morris, spokesman for Williams. “We’re not there yet, but I expect something to come together rather quickly.”

Meanwhile, sports commission chairman Mark Tuohey is expected to meet today with Jerry Reinsdorf, a key figure on Major League Baseball’s relocation committee, to finalize the Nationals’ lease for the stadium.

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