- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

The Bonham Group, a Denver-based company that specializes in negotiating stadium naming rights for sports teams, issued its annual report on the industry yesterday.

Through October, there have been 11 naming rights deals for the “Big Five” sports. (Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS.) Bonham helped broker two of those: the new Oracle Arena for the Golden State Warriors and the Honda Center for the Anaheim Ducks. That brings the total value of naming rights deals in North America to more than $4 billion.

Deals this year involving NFL teams were much larger than those in other sports. The Colts, for instance, signed a 20-year, $121.5 million deal with Lucas Oil for their new stadium, scheduled to open in 2008. The deal to name the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, was worth $154 million over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL are pulling in a relatively small $25 to $30 million over 10 years for agreeing to change their arena’s name to the Jobing.com Arena.

New arenas generally score the biggest naming rights contracts; the Colts and Cardinals deals were for new, state-of-the-art facilities. The largest naming rights deal in the U.S. is for Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, which opened in 2002. Reliant is paying $300 million over 32 years.

The once big backlash against naming rights clearly has subsided. Surely, there are some facilities like Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Lambeau Field that won’t change anytime soon. But the idea of naming rights has even seeped down to the collegiate level.

The University of Maryland recently announced that Byrd Stadium is now Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium. (Although unless Chevy Chase is handing out free money, it will still be just Byrd Stadium to me — and, according to my editor, everyone else at the paper.) The bank is paying $20 million over 26 years, with the money going to fund an expansion of the facility.

One interesting note: paying for naming rights is no longer a brash move made by young, start-up companies looking to make a name for themselves. (PSINet, anyone?). Given the increasing cost of these deals, we’re more likely to see big, stable companies like Honda, Toyota, Bank of America and FedEx plaster their names on the stadium. Banks and other financial institutions have been getting heavily involved in the naming rights game, but this year’s deals feature companies ranging from automakers, retailers and computer software manufacturers.

The one question on many people’s minds, or course, is who will land the naming rights for the new stadium for the Nationals?

Your guess is as good as mine; I don’t think the team is in serious talks with anyone, as the stadium won’t open until 2008. But I’ve heard some great suggestions, ranging from “U.S. Navy Field” to “AOL Park.” There’s no truth to the rumor that it will be named after Linda Cropp, Nat Gandhi or Tony Williams. And “$611 Million and Counting Field” won’t fit on a sign.

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