- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. When a regional phone company in Arkansas paid to slap its name on Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, the price seemed steep. Was it really worth $6.2 million for some signs on a building in a small city that got its first major-league sports team just two years earlier? Naming rights were a growing business when the 10-year deal was struck in 1997, but the firm’s executives weren’t sure whether it would be a boon or a boondoggle. They are now. Welcome to Alltel Stadium, home of Super Bowl XXXIX. “It’s a very proud moment,” said Frank O’Mara, Alltel’s executive vice president for sales and marketing. “It makes you feel big. It makes you feel you’re a legitimate player, as we’ve always seen ourselves. But now the rest of the country sees it.” He is not sure how the attention on tomorrow’s game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will translate into profits for a cell phone company that focuses on rural communities. “There’s no science around this,” he said. But he is convinced that a lot more people will know his company. “When we did that deal eight or nine years ago, I assure you, I didn’t think it was cheap. But we would gladly accept that same deal now.” Still, deals to name stadiums can be dicey propositions. Companies fail or are bought out. The Houston Astros’ home was renamed Minute Maid Park from Enron Field after energy giant Enron ran into legal problems. Winning teams become losers and vice versa. American Airlines’ name on Miami’s arena is more valuable now that Shaquille O’Neal is with the Heat. Some companies are referred to by nicknames that bring little publicity; many people refer to Bank One Ballpark, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ home, as the BOB. “Clubs are still very cautious,” said E.J. Narcise, a principal with Team Services LLC, a Maryland company that negotiates naming-rights deals. “You’re not going to see ‘Chico’s Bail Bonds’ hung on the side of a stadium anytime soon.” That was the fictional sponsor of the Bad News Bears in the movie. In reality, selling the name of any sports building may offend purists. But, Mr. Narcise said, “I think our fans are more educated about the economics of our game than they’ve ever been. Corporate naming now is all part of it.” Don’t expect that to happen at one of sports’ most revered edifices, Fenway Park. Fans probably would still call it that even if its official name had a commercial tie-in, but the Red Sox have found creative ways to raise revenue since new ownership took over in 2002. “The name Fenway Park is so institutionalized I don’t think it would attract a lot of interest unless we had a for sale sign and were shopping the name,” said Mike Dee, executive vice president of business affairs for the World Series champions. But he is surprised that non-sports facilities haven’t tried to raise money through naming-rights deals. “If people are willing to pay $2 million a year for a stadium, what do you think they could get for O’Hare Airport?” he said. The New York City subways are headed in that direction. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently approved a two-year deal that could lead to corporate names on subway stations, lines, tunnels and bridges. Last year’s Super Bowl was played at Reliant Stadium in Houston, named for a Texas energy company. The one before was at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, named for a wireless technology company. But a name on a stadium is just a start for companies. “It’s how they want to take it to the next level,” said Eric Smallwood, vice president of Front Row Marketing Services, a Pennsylvania firm that analyzes benefits companies derive from naming rights. “Is Alltel flying clients into the Super Bowl? Did the company get Super Bowl tickets?” The two teams in this year’s game also play in stadiums with corporate names. The Eagles have been playing at Lincoln Financial Field since August 2003, while the Patriots have played at Gillette Stadium since 2002. Procter & Gamble Co. announced Jan. 28 a deal to buy the Boston-based Gillette Co. and says it has no plans to change the name of the stadium; customers know Gillette makes razors but can’t as easily identify P&G;’s products (Pampers Park or Fixodent Field doesn’t strike the right tone). “Gillette has a long-term deal for the name,” said P&G; spokesman Doug Shelton. “Quite frankly, we couldn’t be happier to be associated with the stadium and the world champions. We’ll certainly be rooting for the Patriots.” The Patriots’ new stadium started out with a different name, CMGI Field, but even before its first game, that company nose-dived and the deal was scrapped. One other Massachusetts arena is about to get a new name. After Bank of America bought Fleet Financial Services last year, it got out of a deal to keep the FleetCenter name on the home of the Boston Celtics and Bruins. Richard Krezwick, president of the FleetCenter, hopes to have a new naming-rights deal within six months. He will entertain anything that makes good business sense. “The Google Center might sound funny to some, but, to me, it sounds like a bevy of opportunities,” Mr. Krezwick said. “It would just be a technological smorgasbord. I could find 100 creative ways to promote the Google Center and, when I run out, I could just Google it and find more.” The FleetCenter replaced Boston Garden in 1995, the same year the NFL’s expansion Jaguars moved into a renovated Gator Bowl. It was called Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for two years. The Alltel sign went up in 1997, and the company wants to renew its deal after 2006, especially with the attention it will get from millions of television viewers tomorrow. “You can read ‘Alltel Stadium’ from either side of the stadium from a half a mile away,” Mr. O’Mara said. “It’s been an exceptionally good deal for us.”

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