In a recession in which corporations are rethinking the true value of sports sponsorships, the Tampa Bay Rays believed they had hit a home run, thanks to a stadium naming rights deal with the Mosaic Co.
"Mosaic Field at Charlotte Sports Park" would adorn the refurbished stadium where the team plays its first spring training game in Charlotte County in three weeks.
"Our first priority in considering a naming rights partner was to find a corporation with a strong presence in our region and a demonstrated commitment to local communities," Rays senior vice president Mark Fernandez stated. "The Mosaic Co. has an exceptional track record of community engagement."
What originally served as boilerplate testimonial in a press release now sounds like it belongs on Saturday Night Live. Charlotte County is upset over a local spring training stadium named for a phosphate mining company. The county has spent $12 million in legal fees to fight a pollution threat from Mosaic, which has long wanted to expand its phosphate mining operations along the Peace River, whose waters empty into Charlotte Harbor.
For now, the naming rights are on hold. The Rays, caught off guard by the backlash, asked the County Commission to delay any vote on the deal.
The naming rights squabble that so irks many in Charlotte County probably would not even cross anyone's radar elsewhere in Florida. Mosaic — the name of merged phosphate giants IMC Global and Cargill Crop Nutrition — has been on a public relations tour lately. Its TV ads show smiling Mosaic employees talking about how phosphate fertilizers grow our foods and how diligent Mosaic is in returning its phosphate mines to Florida's natural landscape.
It's economics vs. environment. South of Sarasota and north of Fort Myers, Charlotte County sits in the middle of one of the worst housing and high-unemployment areas in the country. It needs jobs and revenue.
The terms of what Mosaic would pay the Rays were not revealed, but the company would pay the county about $1.4 million spread over 15 years. The funds would maintain the Rays stadium in place of using local tax money.
The Rays need Mosaic, too. Finding companies these days willing to grab long-term naming rights deal is tough, and Mosaic is one of the deeper pockets around.
The company, headquartered in Plymouth, Minn., boasts a market value of $25 billion. That's bigger than the market values of Tampa Bay companies Tech Data, Jabil Circuit, TECO Energy, Lincare, WellCare and Raymond James Financial combined.
Stadium naming rights deals gone bad are not unusual. Deals involving the New York Mets, New York Giants and Jets, Houston Astros and even the University of South Florida have all suffered bad publicity or outright cancellations. (See accompanying box.)
Mosaic itself is no amateur in the stadium name game. Its Canadian affiliate signed a naming rights deal in 2006 with the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders where they now play in Mosaic Stadium. Mosaic Canada owns the stadium naming rights for 10 years at a cost of $3.75 million.
In Charlotte County, 65 miles south of Tampa Bay, we'll see who bends to make a deal work, or whether there's too much emotional baggage for compromise.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.