Comcast seeks right to name UM arena

Cable outfit negotiates over proposed building

November 10, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Cable TV giant Comcast Cablevision is negotiating to put its name on the University of Maryland's proposed arena in College Park, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The university, seeking to replace 44-year-old Cole Field House as the home of the Terrapins, is looking for one or more major corporate sponsors to pay $25 million of the estimated $95 million construction cost. School officials are hoping to have a sponsor in place before the state legislature convenes early next year, when the state will be asked to approve its share of the funding.

Philadelphia-based Comcast, which also explored a deal to have its name put onBaltimore's NFL stadium before PSINet took the plunge, has been in discussion with the university for some time, but a deal is at least weeks away, sources said.

Comcast spokesman Mitchell Schmale said: "I can neither confirm or deny that any negotiations are taking place."

The university also has been negotiating with Enron, a Houston-based energy firm, for a naming-rights deal, as previously reported in The Sun. Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney said: "As a matter of company policy, we don't comment on deals pending or otherwise."

One scenario under consideration is for both companies to be involved, with one paying to put its name on the building and the other paying to secure the university as a big customer. Both firms provide services that could be marketed to a college. Comcast could profit by offering cable to thousands of dorms and classrooms, and Enron by managing campus buildings.

Though cumbersome, such a deal may be needed for the school to raise the private money lawmakers have demanded be part of the project. The General Assembly has approved only design funding, and has asked the Maryland Stadium Authority and the university to explore contributions to raise at least half the construction costs. The state would pay the rest.

"I really can't comment. We're talking to a number of people," stadium authority chairman John Brown said, declining to name specific candidates.

He said the university and stadium authority would like to have a deal in place soon but that there is no firm timetable. "Obviously, sooner is better than later," Brown said.

"It would be premature to comment on any discussions between university representatives and potential naming-rights partners," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said.

Comcast has announced acquisitions that will, if approved, make it the third largest cable provider in the nation.

Enron sells gas, electricity and facility-management services for stadiums and arenas, among other customers. College Park receives its energy from another company, so talks with Enron have focused on facility management.

Enron committed to pay $100 million over 30 years to name the stadium being built for the Houston Astros.

Lou I. Pai, the chairman of a subsidiary, Enron Energy Services, studied economics at College Park.

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

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