Ravens play high-tech name game Up-and-coming firms show most interest in stadium sponsorship

Price may be $3M per year

Traditional industries not part of latest deals

May 08, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

For clues to what Baltimore's newest stadium is likely to be called, don't look to the well-recognized industrial giants of the city's past. Look to the boundless industries of the future: computers, Internet service providers, telecommunications.

It is from these cutting-edge businesses that the Ravens have received the most interest, and could select a sponsor willing to pay top dollar to put its name on the outside of the stadium being built at Camden Yards.

How does AT&T Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards sound? The Comcast Bowl? Cellular One Field? Erol's Internet Stadium?

The Ravens say they are still weeks, possibly months, from finalizing one of the team's biggest and most costly sponsorship deals. But these companies are among those contacted about the deal, and one could emerge as the comprehensive "presenting sponsor" whose name will become nearly synonymous with the team's.

Absent so far from the list of prospects are some of the stalwarts of the state's corporate colony: Black & Decker Corp., T. Rowe Price, Legg Mason, Westinghouse.

Experts say this is typical of the emerging business of stadium naming, where companies pay top dollar for the instant recognition that comes from affixing their names to the homes of pro sports teams.

Established companies in traditional industries have significant name recognition to begin with, and find stadium rights -- which in the case of the Ravens could cost $3 million or more a year -- an ineffective use of their marketing dollars.

That leaves the field to a universe of large and up-and-coming firms, in competitive, fast-growing industries where quickly securing a marketing advantage could determine whether a company survives or perishes.

"High-tech is absolutely where I'd put my attention. There are a lot of companies that are in it and the trick is getting name awareness ahead of everyone else," said Fred Fried, executive vice president of Integrated Sports International of East Rutherford, which specializes in matching sponsors and stadiums.

Recent deals illustrate the point: Ericsson, a cellular phone maker, paid $20 million over 10 years to name the Carolina Panthers stadium. Internet supplier 3Com paid $4 million to rename San Francisco's Candlestick Park for four years. MCI paid $40 million to name the new arena in Washington.

bTC The Ravens rights could sell for $1.5 million to $2 million a year, predicted Dean Bonham, president of a sports and entertainment marketing firm based in Denver.

The Ravens have an attractive product to sell in a new, architecturally distinct stadium, but Bonham said there are drawbacks, too: Baltimore is a medium-sized market, and football stadiums rank behind arenas and baseball parks for their value to sponsors because of the relatively small number of events held each year.

Ravens executive vice president David Modell said the team is talking with several companies about the deal, all of which he declined to identify, and is still approaching others. The franchise has hired ProServ, the sports marketing firm, to prospect.

"Right now the high-tech industry is having an explosive level of growth, so some of their players are a natural for us," Modell said.

Other industries showing interest are older, but newly contentious: airlines, financial services and energy.

Spokesmen for a number of high-technology companies acknowledged having contact with the team or its representatives: Sprint, AT&T, America Online, Erol's Internet Service, Bell Atlantic, Cellular One, Comcast.

Among those, several said the price was too high or were not interested. A few remain prospects.

"There's been a lot of discussions but there's nothing hot or heavy being discussed at this point. They are wanting a lot of money," said Jim Carter, a Greenbelt-based spokesman for Cellular One, owned by SBC Communications of San Antonio.

Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable television and Internet company, acknowledged months ago an interest in the deal.

An AT&T spokesman said the company had considered getting into the stadium-naming business but has so far declined, although sources say it remains in touch with the team. Ditto, Erols, the Springfield, Va.-based Internet provider.

Erol's spokesman Mike Guzzo said "We talked with them. It was a little out of our price range."

Sprint declined.

"It's not something we are pursuing," said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Audrey Schaefer.

USAirways, whose name will be coming off the USAirways Arena now that the facility has lost its major-league tenants to a new arena in Washington, said it considered buying the name of the new arena as well as the Baltimore stadium. But it declined, said spokesman Rick Weintraub.

Among financial services firms, locally based Legg Mason and T. Rowe Price took a pass.

NationsBank, a Charlotte-based banking company with extensive interest in sports and large holdings in Maryland, has decided not to name stadiums anywhere, according to a spokeswoman.

Black & Decker, the Towson-based home products maker, was approached by the Ravens but concentrates its advertising on specific products, not the company's corporate image, said spokeswoman Barbara Lucas.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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