SBJ/April 4-10, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Lexus buys naming rights to Panthers' rink

FLORIDA PANTHERS
A rendering shows how the main scoreboard might display the Lexus Rink name.
The Florida Panthers, striving to meet the needs of a longtime corporate partner, have sold the naming rights to the ice floor at their arena to automaker Lexus, the first deal of its kind in the NHL and only the second one in major league sports.

When the Panthers play their first 2011-12 preseason game in mid-September, the playing surface officially will be called Lexus Rink at the BankAtlantic Center. The deal’s value is in the mid- to upper six figures annually, sources said.

The only other deal in the majors in which a team has sold naming rights to its playing surface is in Minneapolis, where the Vikings signed Mall of America in October 2009 to a three-year deal putting its name on the Metrodome field. That deal is reportedly worth seven figures annually.

In south Florida, the twist on traditional naming rights provides greater public exposure for a company that has been a founding partner and sponsor of the arena’s suite/club level since the facility opened in 1998. The extension moves Lexus’ assets from those premium spaces to the inner bowl, something company officials requested during negotiations, said Michael Yormark, president and chief operating officer for Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the Panthers’ parent company.

“This is their third renewal, and Lexus was looking for something a bit different, the ‘next big idea,’” Yormark said. “They still have their [branded] parking lot deal for all events, but they challenged me to come up with something new. … For us, it created new inventory that we haven’t taken advantage of in the past.”

Lexus officials from the four local dealerships principally involved in the deal would not comment for this story.

Naming-rights deals for playing surfaces are rare in the majors, where leagues have restrictions on whether and how brands can be displayed on the field, court or ice:

• The NFL prohibits corporate logos of any kind on the field.

• NBA teams can display commercial brands on the hardwood if they are part of the facility’s name.

• MLB does not allow corporate logos on the field of play with the exception of the AstroTurf brand in foul territory at Rogers Centre in Toronto and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

• Major League Soccer allows corporate logos outside the white lines of play and on field-level video boards.

• NHL rules allow teams to sell four advertising positions on the ice. A space adjacent to the center circle can also be sold if the corporate brand is part of the building name.

The Lexus deal does not include in-ice exposure because the Panthers have already sold their four in-ice spots, to Bud Light, Dex Imaging, Ford and Gulfstream Park. The BankAtlantic Center name is painted near the center circle.

The renewal does give Lexus the first right to buy in-ice space when it becomes available, Yormark said.

For Panthers home games, the Lexus Rink brand will be spelled out front and center for hockey fans on a new permanent sign attached to the bottom of the center-hung scoreboard. Lexus Rink at the BankAtlantic Center marks will also adorn the “lip” at the top of the dasherboards facing the seats in the lower bowl, in addition to the Lexus Rink at the BankAtlantic Center name flashed on the traditional LED ribbon boards.

During home game broadcasts, Fox Sports Florida and WQAM radio announcers will reference the Lexus Rink, Yormark said.

The terms of the agreement stipulate that Lexus Rink signs will not be activated for concerts and other shows at the arena that do not use the ice floor, Panthers officials said. That means the Lexus brand will go dark in the bowl for roughly 150 dates when the scoreboard is raised to the rafters and its multiple car displays, a piece of activation carried over from the old deal, are removed from the concourses.

Naming-rights consultant Randy Bernstein sees what the Vikings and the Panthers did as a natural progression for naming rights. Colleges and minor league teams have been doing these deals for years, and it is not a stretch to see that trend migrate upward, Bernstein said.

In Minnesota, the Vikings are squeezing as much revenue as they can from a publicly owned stadium where they are a tenant. State law prohibits the stadium’s official name, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, from being changed, said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission. The Mall of America Field deal expires Feb. 28, 2012, soon after the team’s lease runs out at the Metrodome following the 2011 season. (A new Teflon roof is being installed to replace the one damaged from a December snowstorm and like the old roof will be adorned with the Mall of America logo).

“It is a unique opportunity for sports facilities, especially those that cannot officially change their name to include a corporate sponsor,” said Steve LaCroix, the Vikings’ vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer. “I would expect to see more of these [deals] in the future.”

An important issue to consider for doing these “sub-naming-rights” deals is the effect on the naming-rights deal for the facility itself, Bernstein said. BankAtlantic was aware of the Panthers’ deal with Lexus before it was signed, team officials said.

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