You'd think Tom James would be in a mood to celebrate.
The stadium that bears his company's name, Raymond James, is hosting the Super Bowl on Sunday. While advertisers shell out nearly $3 million apiece for a mere 30-second commercial, Raymond James is paying just $3.3 million for the naming rights for the year, guaranteeing that the financial services firm's moniker will be heard and seen countless times by a TV audience of almost 100 million.
Yet, as the big game approaches, Tom James, 66, has mixed emotions. Sure, he appreciates a naming rights deal that turned out "better than we dreamed.'' But it's hard for him to get past the turmoil affecting his company and the broader market.
Doesn't he welcome the Super Bowl respite? "I'd rather have a market turn, and I don't suspect we're going to have it this year,'' James said in an interview with the Times.
"Sure it's fun to have some release, but it's like a vacation if you're a soldier in the war zone. It's still not the same as being able to go home.''
Caught up in Wall Street's financial meltdown last fall, Raymond James' stock fell 47 percent in 2008. Adding to its misery, the company has been under pressure from customers to buy back hard-to-trade auction rate securities after the market froze last year. Raymond James has said it doesn't have access to financing to cover "anything near" the $1 billion outstanding owned by its clients.
To be sure, the naming rights deal inked in 1998 was a winner for the company. Penned during an Internet frenzy era, Raymond James bought in at a rate a third of what some dot-coms were paying for stadium identification. And the deal, now extended to 18 years, has had escalator clauses capping annual increases under 4 percent.
Beyond Tampa Bay Bucs' games, Raymond James Stadium draws publicity through everything from USF games to tractor pulls (though, James concedes the latter is "really not our market, that one.'') As a landmark, the stadium is referenced in ads by numerous businesses along Dale Mabry Highway.
When Raymond James bought a Canadian company in the beginning of 2001, the stadium played heavily into brand recognition with customers. To introduce Raymond James to clients in Toronto, the company's new Canadian side of the corporate family threw a party using a Tampa Bay Bucs' theme.
After the '01 Super Bowl, Raymond James measured that its national name awareness rose 40.8 percent, spokeswoman Anthea Penrose said. Though the firm also launched national TV ads in 2000 as it moved beyond its regional roots, it attributes part of the leap to the big game.
A 'jaundiced' view
This year, as the next Super Bowl arrives, James is keeping expectations in check.
"This won't be as dynamic a financial impact as you read from our host committee in its expectations,'' he said. Already too "jaundiced'' to believe the initial loose economic projection numbers, he has even more doubts given the recession.
From a business viewpoint, James acknowledges, he's also disappointed with this year's matchup of the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"The best thing that (could have happened) to us is have the financial center teams play each other,'' James said. "So if you were asking for a perfect world, we would have asked for the (New York) Giants and Philadelphia … or Chicago or New England.''
Instead, a Rust Belt vs. Valley of the Sun showdown is a hard sell to lure corporate investment clients to Tampa.
In addition to its 16-seat suite, Raymond James buys another 100 seats as part of its sponsorship package. Add up the cost of food and entertainment and James calculates it comes to about $7,000 per ticket — far more expensive than options on the open market.
"It just costs a lot of money. And with the economic downturn, people that would normally be here are not here,'' James said. "I don't mean to dismiss the importance of it, but you have to be reasonable in assessing the value.''
Back in 2001, he noted, businesses were "kind of at a high.''
"Your institutions came down here. They were all enthusiastic. Everything's great and they reward you with business,'' he said.
"All your prospective investors (now) are in negative frames of mind. … When they're in a funk of this kind, you don't get the value.''