SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Facilities

FirstEnergy gave Browns green light

FirstEnergy was always interested in buying naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium, said Jim Ross, the team’s senior vice president of business development.

Last week, the longtime Browns sponsor made it official, signing a long-term deal to rename the facility FirstEnergy Stadium.

The new naming-rights sponsor for Cleveland Browns Stadium showed interest more than two years ago, but the deal didn’t come together until after the Browns were sold.
Rendering by: CLEVELAND BROWNS
Officials with the Browns and FirstEnergy would not disclose the terms, but the agreement covers a minimum of 15 years with an annual value in the neighborhood of $6 million, according to industry sources. Both sides negotiated in-house with no assistance from naming-rights consultants.

Ross, representing the team, first had discussions with FirstEnergy about naming rights 2 1/2 years ago, soon after he was hired in Cleveland. The electric company has been a Browns corporate partner since the stadium opened in 1999 and upgraded to a gate partner from 2002 through 2006. Most recently, FirstEnergy was a scoreboard sponsor.

“They told us, ‘should you decide to do it, we are interested,’” Ross said. “They had questions over how much it would cost and what would it involve, and told us it would be great for their brand.”

Former team owner Randy Lerner never committed to selling the stadium’s naming rights even though terms of the lease between the team and the city encouraged the Browns to do so, according to local reports.

By comparison, new team owner Jimmy Haslam was all for it and said the Browns would be selling naming rights at a news conference in late October announcing his purchase of the team.

“After Jim Haslam bought the team and said yes, it freed things up,” Ross said. Two-and-a-half months later, the deal was done.

For FirstEnergy, upgrading to naming rights for the stadium was the next logical step, company spokesman Todd Schneider said.

In addition to being the Browns’ official energy partner, the utility receives signs on the interior and exterior of the stadium, use of Browns trademarks, event sponsorships and media assets, including TV, radio, print and digital.

As part of the deal, a new FirstEnergy Stadium website will be launched before next football season, Ross said. The company will also have a display and interactive areas at the facility.

Since it first became a Browns sponsor, Akron-based FirstEnergy has become a larger, more regional brand by acquiring other utilities, expanding its reach from northwest Ohio to the New Jersey shore, Schneider said.

FirstEnergy is also a sponsor of the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, where its logo is on the outfield wall and on signage behind home plate. At Quicken Loans Arena, FirstEnergy sponsors both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Lake Erie Monsters, an American Hockey League team.

Outside of Cleveland, FirstEnergy has naming rights to minor league ballparks in Reading, Pa., and Lakewood, N.J.

Last year, FirstEnergy bought title sponsorship of the All-American Soap Box Derby in its hometown of Akron after the event was suffering through financial troubles. “We kept the tradition alive,” Schneider said.

The Browns’ deal is subject to approval by the City Council, which expects to take action in the next 30 days, Ross said.

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