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Tampa Bay Times Forum has a new name: Amalie Arena

In this file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, left, welcomes National Hockey League legend Phil Esposito to say a few words as he's honored with an unveiling of statue as a co-founder of the Tampa Bay Lightning. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2011)]
Published Sep. 4, 2014

TAMPA — After a dozen years as the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Tampa Bay Lightning's home has a new name: Amalie Arena.

Amalie Oil Co. is assuming naming rights of the downtown Tampa entertainment arena and concert venue effective immediately, Lightning chairman and owner Jeff Vinik announced Wednesday. The Tampa Bay Times is shifting to become the exclusive print sponsor of the recently renovated 19,204-seat arena.

"We had some national (naming rights) opportunities, but we wanted to go local," Vinik said. "This is about the Tampa Bay region and celebrating what's great in the region."

Founded in 1903, Amalie Oil has been located on 30 acres in Port Tampa Bay since 1977 and has 250 employees. The family-owned enterprise supplies motor oil and industrial lubricants to international oil companies, automotive retailers, distributors, retailers, mass merchandisers and private label customers in 50 states and more than 100 countries.

Despite that multinational footprint, Amalie (pronounced AM-a-lee) is far from a household name in its hometown of Tampa. That's because much of the oil distributed by Amalie is either funneled through wholesalers, sold to international oil companies or rebranded under the labels of other distributors and chains like Advance Auto Parts or Auto Zone.

"They have flown under the radar a little bit," Vinik said, "but no longer."

Amalie Motor Oil has maintained sponsorships in the motorsports industry and, since 2011, has held naming rights to the arena football field used by the Tampa Bay Storm, which is also owned by Vinik and plays at the same complex as the Lightning.

Harry Barkett, Amalie president and chief executive officer and one of four Barkett brothers who own and operate the company, said Lightning officials broached the idea of expanding their involvement and the conversation mushroomed.

He liked the idea of an enhanced business relationship with Vinik, he said, and the timing couldn't have been better. The Barketts are in the early stages of building recognition of the Amalie brand. They plan to expand their motor oil retail line and ratchet up their distribution channels.

Barkett joked about the company's anonymity, telling a packed audience gathered for Wednesday's announcement, "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'Who is this guy? Who is Amalie?' "

Barkett's three brothers — Rick, Anthony and Ken — joined him onstage to don Lightning jerseys and celebrate the deal. He added, "It's a wonderful day when one local business can turn over the helm to another local business."

Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett said some rebranding changes were happening immediately, including a revamped website and new email addresses for employees. Signs outside the arena itself will be replaced soon, he said, before the hockey season begins in October.

Neither Vinik nor Barkett would discuss terms of the deal except to indicate it was for multiple years and, in Barkett's words, cost a "substantial" amount. Most naming rights deals for the largest arenas across the country range from 15 to 30 years and they can fluctuate from $1 million or $2 million a year into the double digits, according to Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal, which tracks the industry.

The Times bought the naming rights to what was formerly known as the Ice Palace in 2002 under a 12-year deal valued at about $30 million. Three years ago, the paper and the Lightning agreed to extend the arrangement through August 2018.

The initial deal, inked before the newspaper changed its name from the St. Petersburg Times, was viewed as a means to reinforcing the Times' market-leading position in Tampa Bay.

"Putting our name on the Forum helped the St. Pete Times connect with new customers, and then helped establish the Tampa Bay Times as our new name," said Paul Tash, the Times chairman and CEO.

Tash on Wednesday acknowledged being "wistful" about the change while also saying the business goals that drove the deal have been met.

For example, the paper's Sunday circulation for Hillsborough and suburban Pasco more than tripled between 2002 and 2013, he noted. The Times also received a strong dose of brand recognition — including more than $1.3 million in media exposure — when the Republican National Convention was held at the Forum in August 2012.

Despite tough financial times for the newspaper industry, Tash said saving money wasn't the motivation for the change: "Is there a better purpose to which we can now spend some of those resources? Probably so. But the decision is not based on that."

Tash said the Lightning organization approached the Times when a new naming rights partner emerged, and it was a good time for a change.

"Hearty congratulations to the folks at Amalie Oil. I hope this decision works as well for them as it did for us," he said.

The Times remains a major sponsor and will remain visible at the arena through a continued presence on the inside LED digital board, behind the coaches' bench and on the radio. Tash declined to discuss how much less the Times would be spending on the marketing arrangement, citing confidentiality of sponsorship arrangements.

"We look forward to this next phase of our relationship with the Lightning and the Vinik organization. They are terrific partners and great community assets," Tash added.

Long-term naming rights agreements extending more than a decade are not unusual, certainly not in Tampa Bay.

Raymond James Financial has held the naming rights to the Tampa home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since it opened in 1998. Orange juice stalwart Tropicana Products has held naming rights to the St. Petersburg home of the Tampa Bay Rays since 1996.

However, there also have been naming rights deals in Tampa Bay of far shorter duration. The Florida State Fairgrounds, for instance, called its 20,000-seat outdoor arena in Tampa the Ford Amphitheatre when it opened in 2004. In 2010, the site was renamed the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre and in 2013 named for its newest sponsor, MidFlorida Credit Union, in a three-year deal.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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