Fans know what they'll call stadium

August 08, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

If the Ravens want to wait, they can wait. If they want to lose revenue, they can lose revenue. If they want to find a "presenting sponsor" to cough up $7 million a year, they can keep knocking on corporate doors into the 21st century, and it will be their problem.

We'll call the stadium whatever we'd like.

We'll call it Camden Yards.

That's right, Camden Yards, the name with the greatest brand value in sports today, the name that stuck after former Orioles owner Eli Jacobs tried to jam "Oriole Park" down our throats, the name that Ravens owner Art Modell can never take away.

Eventually, the Ravens will close the deal, and it will be "Comcast Stadium at Camden Yards," or some other such nonsense. But why even worry about the delay? The longer the Ravens dawdle, the longer their fans will call it Camden Yards, the better off the world will be.

Naming rights. We all detest them. If anything, the new stadium should be called "Ravens Field." The complex should be named for former governor William Donald Schaefer. But naming rights are one of those wonderful sports innovations with one intent, and one intent only -- to make owners money.

The state sold its soul to the Ravens for $10 million (money for education! money for education!). See, the good folks in Annapolis needed to justify the sports crime of the century, the luring of the Cleveland Browns with a publicly funded $220 million branch of the U.S. Mint at Camden Yards. One loss of innocence led to another.

So, on top of their sweetheart deal, the Ravens bought the right to sell the name of their stadium, and make even more money. But then they got cute (read: greedy). They developed the idea of a "presenting sponsor" -- another innovation! Basically, their goal is to become "The Baltimore Ravens as presented by Pepsi," and slap the corporate name and logo everywhere they can find.

What is such a partnership worth? In the Ravens' view, more than the price of simple naming rights; indeed, more than any such deal in existence. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who move into a new stadium Sept. 20, sold the name to a local financial services company for $3 million a year over 13 years. The Ravens started off asking $7 million a year. Naturally, no one jumped.

David Modell, the Ravens' executive vice president of communications, said the naming rights are a back-burner issue, that "the pursuit hasn't been as intense as others think it has been." In other words, a team with the biggest debt in NFL history is willing to forfeit millions while awaiting for its corporate prince to hop off the light rail.

Now, if you're Corporation X, what would you tell the Ravens once the season began? Hmmm, maybe something like, "Sorry, guys, we didn't benefit from the buzz surrounding the opening, the initial rush of excitement, the media splash. We're still interested in the sponsorship, of course. But drop your price by a few million."

David Modell, of course, is repulsed by such thinking.

"I don't think there's any diminution of value," he said. "There's going to be a lot of attention placed on the stadium, all the time. It's not going anywhere. That is a benefit of participating. You don't participate just to get involved with the opening of a venue. You participate because of the identity it gives you in the long haul."

David Cope, the team's vice president of sales and marketing, is experienced in such matters -- he helped negotiate the deal to put the MCI Communications name on the MCI Center. That agreement was reached more than two years before the arena opened. But Cope believes that it might benefit the Ravens to wait.

"The first two years, our product -- the team and facility -- were both below-average," Cope said. "Therefore, the impression of us in the market has been below-average. Now, the country is going to be awakened to Baltimore and the NFL. We're going to be much more legitimate, big league. It will make our proposal more legitimate, our stadium more legitimate, our team more legitimate."

Perhaps, but in an ideal world, wouldn't the Ravens already be tapping their corporate sugar daddy? Of course they would. Yet, David Modell said the team is focusing almost exclusively on providing the best possible service for its permanent seat license holders -- the same excuse he used for declining to add a signature raven sculpture to one corner of the stadium.

Whatever, the first preseason game at Old Whatchamacallit is tonight, and fans won't have any trouble identifying the place. No one calls the Orioles' stadium "Oriole Park" except the team's radio and television announcers. The Ravens' printed materials list the site of the home games as "Camden Yards." The corporate name will include, "at Camden Yards."

If the Ravens can't find a sponsor, that's their problem.

We paid for the stadium; we'll call it what we please.

We'll call it Camden Yards.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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