SBJ/August 25 - 31, 2003/Facilities

Arena name won’t see print

The Omaha World Herald's editorial department will not use in stories the name of the city's new arena, Qwest Center Omaha, the rights to which cost its naming-rights sponsor almost $1 million a year.

The newspaper instead is calling the complex the Omaha Convention Center and Arena, stating that the generic name best reflects that taxpayers are responsible for funding the majority of construction costs.

Qwest Communications recently agreed to a 15-year naming-rights contract worth just more than $14 million.

The $291 million facility, built with public and private money, is scheduled to open in late September. It includes a 16,000-seat arena with 32 suites and 1,000 club seats that will be home to Creighton University men's basketball and University of Nebraska-Omaha men's hockey.

Qwest has its headquarters in Denver, where a similar situation occurred. There, The Denver Post initially declined to refer to the NFL Broncos' new stadium by its corporate-sponsored title, Invesco Field at Mile High, which replaced Mile High Stadium in 2001.

"We believe the issue will resolve itself," said Qwest spokesman Chris Hardman. "I'm calling from Denver, and we saw it happen here with Invesco Field."

World Herald Executive Editor Larry King said the policy is permanent. He researched the Denver occurrence and said the Post eventually changed its position after a new editor was hired.

King said the World Herald took its stance long before the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority, a nonprofit created to oversee construction and management of the Omaha venue, secured title sponsorship.

Naming rights was a key part of the financing package developed by the authority and the city, said Roger Dixon, executive director of Qwest Center Omaha. The mayor and City Council approved the measure in December 2000.

King said, "This is strictly an advertising and marketing agreement and we decided since the taxpayers over time will pay the bulk of the cost, in our coverage area, to refer to it as the Omaha Convention Center and Arena."

Dixon said, "We're not concerned because 85 percent of people receive their information electronically. That's an educated guess. We're still going to get coverage from the newspaper. The sentiments we've had from phone calls and e-mails is that the community in general is not pleased with the paper's stance."

Jeff Knapple, a naming-rights broker with Envision, said: "I don't understand the paper's approach. The arena needs that revenue to survive, especially in Omaha. It sounds a little bit self-serving."

King acknowledged that there are "inconsistencies" with the World Herald's referring to other arenas and stadiums by titles that include corporate names. Dixon and the authority made that point in an Aug. 10 letter to the editor. King said, "We can't police all the other ones."

King also acknowledged that title sponsorship will help pay off the building debt, but said the $14 million is a "drop in the bucket" compared with the public's portion, estimated at $400 million once all principal and interest are paid over a 20-year period.

"There were a whole bunch of advertising packages sold for the arena," he said. "This just happened to be a bigger advertising contract."

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