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Jays' home could be named after cable outfit

The Toronto Blue Jays may soon be playing their spring home games at a place called Knology.

After struggling for more than a year to find someone to purchase the naming rights to the renovated baseball stadium, Dunedin was relieved to learn last week that Knology, a Georgia communications company, has stepped up to the plate.

City and company officials are hammering out the final details of the contract, which would bring the city $400,000 over the next five years. About $60,000 of that would be in free commercial airtime on the company's cable television network, which the city hopes might result in additional revenues. The contract, which includes two five-year renewal options, could go before the commission as early as Feb. 5.

"We feel pretty comfortable with the numbers we have been able to generate off this deal," Commissioner Dave Eggers said. "I'm very encouraged by the idea. It's certainly the type of business and the kind of commitment we were looking for."

Finding someone to purchase the naming rights has been a frustrating process for members of the Dunedin Stadium Naming Rights Committee, which began meeting more than a year ago to solicit companies. They sent more than 14,000 fliers and 300 personal letters, along with 100 memos to attorneys, offering them a $10,000 finders free.

Some of the companies that showed interest, such as Pepsi and Coke, were reluctant to attach their corporate name and logo to the city's renovated stadium. Both the drink companies instead sought exclusive rights to sell their beverages in the city. Dunedin is close to completing a deal with Pepsi, said Harry Gross, director of leisure services.

Dunedin was originally looking for someone willing to spend $100,000 a year over 10 years for the naming rights to Dunedin Stadium at Grant Field. With spring training approaching, committee members were desperate enough to consider hiring a firm to market the naming rights. The item was already on last month's commission meeting agenda when Knology came forward.

"We had sent out all kinds of information, and they were interested," said Cecil Englebert, chairman of the Naming Rights Committee. "I invited them to come down. They put together an offer we felt was okay for the next five years."

The deal is nowhere close to the one struck last week between Clearwater and the Phillies and Bright House Networks. The cable company agreed to pay $1.7-million over the next 10 years for the naming rights to Clearwater's new ballpark. The new $28-million stadium, located off U.S. 19, is scheduled to open next month.

Knology Inc. is a fairly new cable company based in West Point, Ga. The company took over Verizon Communications' Americast cable operations on Dec. 31. It offers high-speed Internet service, digital cable TV, local and long-distance phone service.

Company spokeswoman Lizbeth Dison confirmed the company was in negotiations with the city but declined to elaborate.

"From what I've been told, there are a lot more five-year deals being done," Gross said. "When you say a price, that's normally the start of negotiations. You don't normally get someone who would actually come out and give you the first price you quoted to them. I think it's going to work out."

Dunedin secured the naming rights and budgeted $25,000 for a marketing effort as part of a 2002 contract renewal with the Toronto Blue Jays. An initial $5,000 was spent on purchasing a book with the contact numbers of 4,000 Florida companies, publishing a brochure and producing a video and CD-ROM titled Put Your Name On Our Game. The city receives all of the revenues from the deal.

It's been a long process, Englebert said, one he thought would go much more quickly. Many companies that expressed interest early on, such as Wachovia and SunTrust banks, later dropped out of the running. The rough economy, the timing and the tucked-away location on Douglas Avenue made wooing companies difficult.

"I thought it would go much quicker than this," Englebert said. "A lot of people thought this was a good idea. No one ever said, "You're never going to do it.' We kept going forward with it. If nothing goes wrong between now and contract signing, we should be good."

_ Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or mscottsptimes.com.

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