SBJ/May 17 - 23, 2004/Facilities

Lender lands in pricey neighborhood

Ameriquest Mortgage Co. upgraded its presence significantly in Major League Baseball by signing a 30-year, $75 million naming-rights contract for the Texas Rangers’ ballpark recently.

Ameriquest Field in Arlington is the new name of the facility formerly known as The Ballpark in Arlington. The $250 million stadium opened in 1994.

Orange, Calif.-based Ameriquest already was the official mortgage company of MLB and is the title sponsor of in-stadium and online balloting for the All-Star Game.

Jeff Cogan, chief operating officer for the Rangers, represented the team in negotiating the agreement.

The deal plays into the club’s off-season focus “on redirecting the Rangers as a younger, more competitive and profitable team,” said team owner Tom Hicks.

“The additional revenue streams add to the financial flexibility we gained when trading Alex Rodriguez [and his $250 million contract] to the New York Yankees,” he said.

Naming-rights broker Dean Bonham of Denver assumed the role of lead negotiator for Ameriquest in the last two months to complete the arrangement.

“It was a fair deal for both partners,” Bonham said.

Hicks indicated that he was satisfied to strike a deal five to six years after buying the Rangers and a decade after the building opened.

“I bought the team in 1998 and thought about naming rights at the time, but by 2000, the market dried up,” he said. “It was on the shelf until last fall.”

Hicks said the negotiations were much different than when he helped sell naming rights for American Airlines Center in Dallas. He owns half of the arena and the NHL Stars, a primary tenant.

“It was a very different process and a lot more robust than it was to name a stadium that’s 10 years old,” he said. “It was important to Ameriquest that our ballpark had never been branded. It wasn’t a rebranding.”

Last year, U.S. Cellular signed a 23-year, $68 million title sponsorship with the Chicago White Sox for 13-year-old Comiskey Park. Rangers officials pointed out that their naming deal brought in a sponsor from a sector not normally a big spender at ballparks and didn’t infringe on more traditional categories.

Ameriquest will activate its sponsorship in the next two months inside the facility with signs and a 15-foot replica of the Liberty Bell, which is part of the company’s logo.

The Rangers will remove a section of 150 seats to make room for the bell. Those seats cost $20, but Hicks said it’s usually the last area to be sold in the ballpark and won’t mean much in lost revenue.

The bell will ring every time a Rangers player hits a home run, similar to what happens when the Phillies smack a dinger at new Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Ameriquest may be involved in the Rangers’ efforts to develop the more than 200 acres surrounding the stadium, according to Hicks. “We’ve shared our plans and vision with them,” he said.

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