SBJ/20090727/Facilities

Chiefs return to DIY plan for selling Arrowhead naming rights

The Kansas City Chiefs plan to market naming rights for Arrowhead Stadium on their own after the club’s deals with IMG and Premier Partnerships failed to deliver a partner.

“We’re going to do it ourselves,” said Mark Donovan, the team’s new chief operating officer, who has been on the job for five weeks.

Donovan, settling in after moving from the Philadelphia Eagles, has his hands full trying to persuade a company to pay millions during a recession to put its name on a 37-year-old stadium whose title is instantly recognizable to NFL fans.

The stadium is well into a multiyear, $375 million renovation project, though, as club marketers prepare a new naming-rights package for formal presentation.

Last year, Chiefs sales staff members talked to a few naming-rights candidates, the most serious discussions taking place with a regional bank. The team hired IMG late last summer to help close a deal. They were asking for more than $5 million annually over 20 years, a contract concurrent with the team’s building lease.

IMG’s deal expired and the agency is no longer working for the Chiefs, Donovan confirmed. It was IMG’s first naming-rights assignment in the NFL, although it has worked with other teams on financing and sponsorship sales.

The weak economy, pricing and the philosophical issue of keeping the Arrowhead name in the new title all were obstacles in trying to sell those rights, said Tom Worcester, IMG’s senior vice president and marketing director of U.S. business development.

The Chiefs sold gate sponsorships to Hy-Vee
and Sprint and want to sell two more.

Premier Partnerships could not secure a naming-rights partner in a one-year deal that expired in November 2007.

While the club continues to market naming rights, it’s finding other parts of the stadium to brand.

Earlier this year, the Chiefs sold naming rights to two of the stadium’s four corner gates to Hy-Vee, a regional supermarket chain, and Sprint, the Kansas City-based telecommunications firm whose name is on the newest arena in town.

The Chiefs are in discussions to sell the other two gates, Donovan said. The gate sponsorships take effect in 2010, and the team didn’t disclose the price tag.

Other new areas for sponsors to brand include premium clubs, a hall of fame, a children’s learning center and the team’s renovated practice facility down the street from Arrowhead. Populous designed the stadium’s upgrades.

Donovan said a few firms are interested in the stadium’s naming rights, but he described those talks as purely introductory at this point.

“We are in the middle of construction this season for a project that will not be done until 2010, and in the analysis of this new package, certain things will be changed,” Donovan said, without identifying the revisions.

“We remain optimistic that people will see the value of our brand and the practice facility,” said Donovan, one day before he joined other Chiefs personnel to personally deliver season tickets to the team’s best customers.

 ROSY OUTLOOK: The Portland Trail Blazers have signed Ovations Food Services to a three-year extension for general concessions and premium dining at the Rose Garden.

The renewal ties into technology upgrades at the arena, said J.E. Isaac, the team’s senior vice president of business affairs. The Blazers are installing a new integrated system that can send “different feeds to different stands” depending on the audience, Isaac said.

The team was still working out the final terms of the deal and was not ready to announce the details last week.

The Blazers have had conversations with Arena Media Networks, a company that partners with teams to sell and display advertising in their facilities, confirmed Art Williams, the firm’s chairman and CEO. Those talks had not progressed to the point that he could provide further comment.

Cisco Sport and Entertainment and Sony Electronics are two vendors that major league teams use to install Internet-based systems to run digital menu boards, sponsor commercials and live game action on flat screens throughout their facilities. Arena Media Networks’ content often folds into the technology.

Several teams are using similar technology this year, and others are looking to add it, but the Rose Garden was miles ahead of the curve in using TV screens to display menus. The arena opened in 1995 with TVs above and behind those stands listing food and drink prices, in addition to showing game action, Isaac said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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