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What name would a new Rays stadium carry? It's a multi-million dollar question

The Cincinnati Reds struck a $75 million deal with American Financial Group in 2003 to play at Great American Ball Park through 2033. [KRT]
Published Jun. 25, 2018

TAMPA — Yankee Stadium, Fenway and Wrigley are ballparks whose names are woven into the lore of America's national pastime.

Petco Park and Guaranteed Rate Field? Not so much.

The trade-off for that clunky corporate handle is typically an annual payout of millions of dollars — a revenue stream certain to play a key part in the funding puzzle for a new ballpark.

In March, Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg said a $25 million naming rights deal would enable the team to pitch in as much as $400 million toward a new ballpark. He may have been thinking about the $20 million-a-year deal the New York Mets struck with Citi.

But that deal is the best in Major League Baseball, worked out in its most lucrative market.

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For smaller market teams like the Rays, naming rights are selling for more modest sums like the $3.5 million-per-year deal the Cleveland Indians struck with auto insurer Progressive in 2008. Target, headquartered in Minnesota, pays the Twins an estimated $4 million to $6 million a year for the team to play at Target Field.

Estimates for a naming rights deal for a new Rays ballpark in Ybor City range from $3 million to $10 million per year, according to sports economists and a consultant contacted by the Tampa Bay Times.

The final amount matters. The guarantee of annual cash flow can be used to borrow money for construction of a new ballpark, which could cost upwards of $800 million. A long-term, $10 million-a-year deal could raise about $95 million up front, said Vanderbilt University sports economist John Vrooman.

Anything would sweeten the deal that renamed the ThunderDome in St. Petersburg to Tropicana Field. The Bradenton orange juice manufacturer pays $1 million per year, the cheapest in baseball.

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There is no guarantee that the Rays will be able to land a naming-rights partner. The Oakland A's lost theirs in 2016 and still are looking, plus there's a lot of competition for the big money and the right fit.

Big-market teams like the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are reported to be interested in selling naming rights to their home fields for the first time. And new Miami Marlins chief executive Derek Jeter also is in the hunt for a Marlins Park sponsor.

Several other teams have recently inked deals.

The Texas Rangers, who will play in a new Arlington stadium in 2020, extended their deal last year with Oklahoma City-based insurer Globe Life through 2048 at the hefty price tag of $11 million a year. The Atlanta Braves signed up Sun Trust Bank in a 25-year deal said to be worth more than $10 million a year for their new digs in suburban Cobb County.

SunTrust chief executive William "Bill" Rogers said the money was worth it. The exposure "exceeded our expectations by some multiple," he told the Atlanta Business Chronicle in March.

How much a firm has to pay to get its name on a stadium is based on attendance, TV viewing audience and the size of the metropolitan market, said Mark Conrad, a professor and director of the Sports Business Concentration at Fordham University. Teams with a national following like the Yankees, Giants or Red Sox can also trade on their cachet.

A deal with the Rays would make most sense for companies that want to raise their profile or expand into the Florida market, Conrad said. So Publix, for example, might not be interested.

The Seminole Hard Rock Casino, another well-heeled Florida business, already pays to have its name on the Miami Dolphins' stadium and its gambling business likely wouldn't sit well with Major League Baseball, which tends to be most conservative of the four major sports leagues, Conrad said.

There are pitfalls to linking a team's name to a company, he warned. The Houston Astros spent $2.1 million in 2002 buying back the naming rights to their ballpark from sponsor Enron after the energy company collapsed spectacularly in a financial scandal.

"You've got to do some due diligence," Conrad said.

About a quarter of the companies that have paid for naming rights are banks and insurance firms. Some of those deals tie the team or team owner into doing business with the bank, said Jim Andrews, senior vice president with Chicago-based ESP Properties, which advises teams and companies on the value of naming rights.

Sponsoring a stadium is also a way for a bank to show commitment to a community, which can provide a competitive advantage there, he said.

"If I'm a bank and put my name on a stadium, it says, 'We are the hometown player here,'" Andrews said. "This is big statement way to do that."

Local civic and elected leaders have said the private sector will need to step up to help a Rays relocation succeed. That could range from season ticket purchases up to a naming rights deal.

The private outreach effort, spearheaded by the group Tampa Bay 2020, is in its infancy but initial responses have been encouraging, said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

Still, he thought a deal to name the Ybor City ballpark would land "somewhere between" the $2 million per year that the A's are looking for and the $11 million the Texas Rangers negotiated.

The details haven't been worked out yet, Hagan said, and they'll need to be coordinated with other business contributions.

"It's only one part of the entire corporate sponsorship initiative," he said.

The Rangers and Braves finalized their naming rights deals roughly three years before their new stadiums opened. Hagan said Tampa still has plenty of time.

"We're still at least four years out," he said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893 8459 Follow @CharlieFrago. Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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