SBJ/December 17 - 23, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Hornet-hunting Norfolk chases naming deal

As Charlotte Hornets officials visit interested cities to leverage their potential relocation deal, Norfolk, Va., officials are rushing to attract a naming-rights offer that must come by Jan. 1.

Though the search for a naming-rights sponsor for a proposed $200 million arena in Norfolk comes during a downturn in the industry, sources predict an offer by Christmas.

"It will happen. The only question is just how much," a source said. "It will be a lowball offer, given the circumstances."

Norfolk officials and representatives from IMG, which has been retained by local business leaders to find a naming-rights sponsor, have met with four undisclosed companies to pitch a deal that is crucial to the area's chances of luring the Hornets.

City officials are targeting a deal worth $60 million to $70 million, far below the $100 million naming-rights deal offered by the Tricon Global Restaurant Group in Louisville, Ky., which also is looking to lure the Hornets to town. Joining Norfolk and Louisville in the Hornets relocation sweepstakes are Anaheim, St. Louis and New Orleans. Hornets officials have set a Jan. 1 deadline for relocation offers.

Officials at IMG would not comment on any prospective naming-rights sponsors in Norfolk but said the market has been stung from such companies as Enron Corp. and TWA, which carried naming-rights agreements before encountering serious financial difficulties.

"I always feel that our backs are against the wall, but this is a tougher sale," said Kevin Lovitt, senior vice president of IMG's stadium and arena group, which has been retained by the Hampton Roads Partnership to secure a naming-rights deal. "There is a stigma that is attached to these deals right now, but we think there are regional companies that have the wherewithal for a deal.

"People take folly in looking at a lot of these naming-rights deals and the financial performance of the companies, but I defy anyone to try to come up with a company like Enron that deconstructed so quickly. At the time, that was a solid-gold deal."

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