Sponsor search begins again Corporation sought to give name, money to Ravens stadium

October 10, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have resumed their search for a corporate sponsor willing to spend millions of dollars to put its name on the new stadium at Camden Yards -- a move whose timing could work to the disadvantage of the governor who brought the team here.

Team officials, who had suspended their hunt for a "naming rights" sponsor in late summer to focus on opening the stadium, say they are in discussions with several interested companies. The team denies speculation that any announcement would be postponed until after next month's election, in which Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey hopes to unseat Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

David Modell, a Ravens executive vice president in charge of sponsorships, said yesterday that the election has not played into the delay in lining up a sponsor. Modell said the Ravens simply have not found the right partner yet.

"The governor's office has not communicated with me one way or the other," Modell said. "We are not waiting until after the election."

Some of the state's Democratic leaders worry that the Ravens' nabbing a blockbuster sponsorship would refocus attention on the $223 million stadium, an unpopular project that Sauerbrey has raised recently.

Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said the team has received informal suggestions from politically connected people to hold off on the name. "We've had advice from the beginning to wait until after the election," he said.

The team hopes to profit from the rights, making the issue a sensitive one. The franchise paid the state $10 million to buy them, on top of the equivalent of $12 million the team was forced to contribute toward stadium construction by the General Assembly.

The team, in turn, has asked sponsors to pay it several times that. The asking price at one point totaled $80 million, or $4 million a year for 20 years, according to one source familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The going rate for such deals is less, but still lucrative. The financial services firm Raymond James & Associates agreed to pay $32.5 million, or $2.5 million a year for 13 years, to name the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new home, and cellular phone equipment company Ericsson agreed to pay $20 million over 20 years to name the Carolina Panthers' stadium.

The Ravens hope to add enough sweeteners to enhance the price, something that could revive criticism of the stadium as a giveaway and could influence what polls indicate may be a close election.

In fact, sensitivity to criticism is one reason the team chose to suspend talks with potential sponsors shortly before the stadium opened Sept. 6. Team officials said at the time that they didn't want a controversy drawing attention from the new building.

The Ravens were said to be close to a naming deal but would wait until November to close it, one source said he was told by a team official several weeks ago. The source, who is familiar with naming rights matters, asked not to be identified.

Modell said the team has had "substantive discussions" with potential sponsors on the name, but is taking its time because it hopes to sign the sponsor to a wide-ranging, long-term relationship that will go beyond naming the building.

This corporation would become a "presenting sponsor" and could see its logo on cheerleaders uniforms, its products for sale in the stadium, and its name flashed on the screen during game broadcasts.

"If someone was stepping up and willing to be the big daddy it would be a tough thing to say no to or to ask them to wait," Modell said. "There are some things you have to do."

Modell declined to predict when a deal will be struck, or to disclose any of the candidates. Companies that have been approached by the team or its agents include Comcast, Sprint, Cisco Systems, and Federal Express.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said announcement of a naming deal could fuel criticism of the stadium and that the team might keep it quiet until after the election. "I believe if they have a deal they would keep it under wraps," Miller said, adding that he has not been told that is so.

"The governor is being criticized by Sauerbrey unfairly on this, I believe," Miller said.

A new Sauerbrey television ad accuses Glendening of "building stadiums instead of schools."

Funding for the twin-stadium Camden Yards complex was signed in 1986 by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer. But no work could begin on the football stadium until a team agreed to play in it, something that didn't happen until 1995 when the Browns announced they would move from Cleveland.

Glendening lured the team, fought to preserve the stadium funding, and won an additional $70 million in road and sewer work for the Redskins stadium in Landover.

Nevertheless, Peter Hamm, a spokesman for Glendening, said the Ravens' seeking a stadium name "is not something we are thinking about."

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag said yesterday the team's purchase of the naming rights was criticized when it occurred last year, and he doubts the signing of a sponsor would further inflame opinions.

"I don't think it's got any political ramifications," he said.

The projects are unpopular. In a poll commissioned by The Sun and other news organizations and released in July, more than 60 percent of voters opposed taxpayers money spent on the stadiums.

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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