Unnamed stadium no identity crisis Ravens: Its opening without sponsor tag OK

June 06, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Despite months of searching, the Ravens have not landed a mega-sponsor to put its name on the new downtown stadium, and a top team official says the facility may open without one.

"It's done when the right deal is done, and I don't think there are any time constraints at all," said David Modell, Ravens executive vice president. "It's not a factor."

The time to get lettering made for the outside of the building may already have passed and, in internal planning for the stadium opening, team officials are calling it the NFL Stadium at Camden Yards.

Of course, all that could change quickly if a deal is struck.

Conventional wisdom holds that it is important to have a so-called "naming rights" sponsor on board before a new stadium opens. The advantages are two-fold: fans don't get in the habit of calling the stadium by another name, and a sponsor can take advantage of the national attention the park is likely to draw when it opens.

The $220 million Ravens stadium will open for an exhibition game on Aug. 8, with its first regular-season game set for Sept. 6.

The team is looking for a corporate partner that will be part of nearly everything the team does on the commercial side. Its name will be on the stadium, its logo on broadcasts and cheerleaders uniforms, and its products may be offered for sale in the stadium.

The importance of picking the right company to fill the role of "presenting sponsor," as the team calls it, is paramount, Modell said.

The team has hired Virginia-based super agents ProServ to help compile lists of prospects, and has held discussions with dozens of potential candidates. Team officials won't reveal who they have or haven't spoken to, but sources say cable television giant Comcast, an early contender, remains in the bidding.

Also said to be interested are a variety of high-technology firms, from telecommunications companies Sprint and AT&T, to Internet equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc.

TruGreen, a lawn-care service provider that had been close to a deal for Tampa's new football stadium, also has shown initial interest, as have retailers Office Depot and Rite-Aid Corp.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based package delivery firm Federal Express Corp. also has discussed the deal, one source said. A spokesman for the company said "Fed Ex receives hundreds of sponsorship proposals each year but as a matter of policy does not confirm or deny whether a specific proposal is under consideration."

Sources say the team, which paid the state $10 million for the right to name the park, is asking $5 million a year and up.

Alice Hoffman, the stadium project manager for the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the time probably has passed for the lettering to be made and attached to the stadium's walls for its opening.

"We're probably not going to get the name on the stadium for opening day. It takes time to fabricate the letters," she said.

Dean Bonham, president of the Bonham Group Inc., a Denver-based consulting company active in naming rights deals, said it's late for the stadium to be named.

"The strategy is always to get that deal in place as many months in advance as possible. There is no advantage to opening that stadium without the name in place. Frankly, I am surprised," he said.

Sean Brenner, editor of Team Marketing Report, a

Chicago-based newsletter serving the sports industry, said some stadiums have opened prior to their names being selected, but it's unusual.

The Corel Centre outside Ottawa, for example, opened in January 1996 as the Palladium. The next month, computer software maker Corel Corp. agreed to pay $26 million in Canadian dollars over 20 years to have the arena, home to the Ottawa Senators, named for the company.

"In the long run, when you are talking about the millions of dollars that will be invested, it probably doesn't make that big a difference. But it would be preferable to have it in place for the initial splash," Brenner said.

"Certainly, from a company's standpoint, it would realize some additional value from the attention and media exposure when it opens," he said.

Pub Date: 6/06/98

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