$20M names arena at UM

Comcast commitment gets ball rolling on $101 million project

January 06, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- University of Maryland athletics appear hooked up for the next century.

Comcast Corp., a cable communications provider based in Philadelphia, has agreed to pay $20 million over 10 years for the naming rights to a $101 million, on-campus arena, university officials announced yesterday.

With that commitment, construction of the Comcast Center is scheduled to start early this summer on the north perimeter of the campus. Seating 17,100, the facility will replace antiquated Cole Field House by the 2002-2003 basketball season.

The 25-year deal is one of the largest of its kind. It was finalized a week before the state's 90-day legislative session begins in Annapolis. Legislators are expected to approve $45 million in state funding for the capital budget, an appropriation that had hinged on the university paying for the remainder of the cost of the project.

Officials said the remainder of the money will be raised through selling naming rights to the court, as well as tax-deductible contributions for preferred seating (1,600 seats).

University president C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr. reached a handshake agreement a few weeks ago with Steve Burch, a Comcast regional senior vice president and Maryland alumnus. It ended six months of negotiations between Maryland and Comcast, soon to be the owner of more than 82 percent of the cable market in the state.

"This is our foundation for our new home," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said. "This [corporate sponsorship] is clearly the biggest, the most important and the most challenging step."

The Comcast Center will house the basketball, wrestling, volleyball and gymnastics teams and will feature a Walk of Fame and History. There will be 33 more restrooms and triple the number of concession stands than at Cole and 6,000 parking spaces within an eight-minute walk.

Although the new arena will have a 20 percent increase in fan capacity, including 20 sky boxes for corporate sponsors, officials pledged to maintain the intimate environment of Cole.

The most distant seat will be only nine feet farther from center court than the most distant one in Cole, and students will surround the entire court and fill one end-court area. As at Cole, the Comcast Center will have its main concourse at the top of the seating bowl.

The basketball teams will have an auxiliary gym, enabling the university to hold 50 to 60 other events, such as concerts, at the new facility without disrupting practice schedules. Athletes will also have a 7,000-square-foot academic support area, a vast improvement over the current one in what Yow calls "the dungeons of Cole."

The long-term future of Cole has yet to be determined.

"Everyone was sad about Memorial Stadium, but Camden Yards has become the prototype for all baseball stadiums," said John Brown, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which will oversee construction. "We really feel, as far as college facilities, that this will be, too."

The atmosphere at yesterday's announcement was relaxed. Gymnastics coach Bob Nelligan performed a handstand while wearing his suit. Men's basketball coach Gary Williams then cracked up the crowd when he promised never again to be late on his cable bill.

There was little pining for Cole, the second-oldest facility in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Built in 1955 as a boxing arena, it was named after Board of Regents chairman William P. Cole Jr.

The field house has played host to seven NCAA regional tournaments and became the only on-campus site to attract two Final Fours, in 1966 and 1970. But constant roof leaks, no air-conditioning, asbestos and cramped seating put the Terrapins at a major disadvantage in recruiting.

The Maryland men's basketball team is playing its first ACC game tonight at North Carolina State's Entertainment and Sports Arena, a 19,722-seat, off-campus facility. It's the third new site to open in the conference in the past 15 years. North Carolina's Smith Center (1986) and Wake Forest's Joel Coliseum (1989) are the others.

"If we are going to stay competitive nationally, we need a new place," said Williams, whose major requests were close seating for students and that the arena be on campus. "It's nostalgic, but at the same time, it's a great day. Now, when they talk about the Dean Dome being a great place, we know our place is going to be better."

Name game

Comcast paid $20 million to buy the naming rights to the proposed University of Maryland arena, ranking among the largest naming sponsorships in college athletics. A look at the top deals:

Venue School Amount

Kohl Center Wisconsin $25 million

Comcast Center Maryland $20 million

Save Mart Center Fresno State $20 million

Jones Stadium-x Texas Tech $20 million

Value City Arena Ohio State $12.5 million

Cox Arena San Diego State $12.0 million

United Spirit Center Texas Tech $10.0 million

x-Paid by SBC Communications for renovations. It has not been determined whether the stadium will be renamed.

Source: University of Maryland

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