Firms open wallets to name UM arena

Rights seen raising at least $25 million

July 21, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

A number of corporations -- possibly including Enron, a Houston-based energy firm -- appear eager to pay millions for the privilege of putting their name on a proposed arena in which the Maryland Terrapins would play.

"I'm very encouraged. We have a fair number of interested parties," said Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Brown. His agency is overseeing the planning of the building that would replace Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park.

Brown said the authority and its consultants have isolated eight to 10 serious candidates for the so-called "naming rights" for the project, and four of them seem very serious. He anticipates selecting one by this fall.

Raising at least $25 million for the rights appears feasible, he said.

State lawmakers have approved only design funding, and have asked the authority and university to explore private sources to raise at least half the estimated $90 million in construction costs. The state would pay the rest.

Other companies have shown interest in lesser sponsorships, tied to providing goods or services for the building, he said. Brown declined to identify any of the prospective sponsors.

University officials, including athletic director Debbie Yow, have visited Enron Corp. headquarters in Texas to discuss naming rights, according to one source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Yow declined yesterday to confirm or deny a trip to Houston, or discuss any other candidates. "I can't confirm anyone we've visited. That's a good way to ruin an opportunity," she said.

Enron sells gas, electricity and facility management services for stadiums and arenas, among other customers. The company committed in April to pay $100 million over 30 years to name the new stadium being built for the Houston Astros.

The company will also manage the stadium's heating and air conditioning systems, provide it with energy and administer other mechanical and electrical operations in a deal that could earn it $200 million over 30 years.

Lou I. Pai, the chairman of a subsidiary, Enron Energy Services, studied economics at College Park. Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing pending or potential deals.

"We're talking to stadiums and arenas all over the country," she said. Most of those negotiations concern providing energy services to the buildings, but sponsorships and other matters are often raised, she said.

A New Jersey sports marketing firm, Integrated Sports International, has been hired to find a naming rights sponsor.

The proposed 17,000-seat complex would include classrooms, offices and other facilities for the athletic department. Opening is projected for 2002.

Sun staff writer Paul McMullen contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/21/99

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