SBJ/March 21-27, 2016/Marketing and Sponsorship

Korn Ferry, MLBAM shop Nats naming rights

The Washington Nationals have partnered with executive search and advisory firm Korn Ferry and MLB Advanced Media to bring the naming rights for Nationals Park back to market.

The naming rights for Nationals Park, entering its ninth season of play, have never been sold, and a prior sales effort in 2007-08 led by the then-Wasserman Media Group as the ballpark was being built and first opened did not yield a deal.

The Nationals had put the sale of ballpark naming rights on the back burner after 2007-08.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The 2008-09 economic recession prompted the club to put the sale of naming rights on the back burner, where it has remained. But with the Nationals still competitive on the field, featuring reigning National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper as one of the sport’s biggest stars, and the ballpark scheduled to serve as host of the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, club executives felt the time was right to restart sales efforts.

This comes as the overall naming-rights market has heated up. More than a dozen new deals have been announced since the beginning of last year, several with nine-figure financial commitments.

“We want to find the right partner that will really be integrated in what we’re doing here,” said Valerie Camillo, Nationals chief revenue and marketing officer. “This is not just a signage play or a media play. We think this will be compelling to both traditional and nontraditional sports sponsors.

The Nationals re-enter the naming-rights marketplace at the same time Monumental Sports & Entertainment has aligned with MP & Silva, Scout Sports & Entertainment, and Bungalow Media & Entertainment to market the naming rights for what is now Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. There is also common ownership between the two entities; Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner is part of the Monumental ownership group.

But Camillo insisted the Nationals are selling “a differentiated offering.”

“We know there are other options in our market, but we are not focusing on that,” she said. “We will have a deeply tailored package, and we don’t believe it’s really an apples-to-apples comparison.”

The alignment is the first time MLBAM or Korn Ferry has entered actively into a naming-rights initiative. Baseball’s digital arm will aid with linking the local Nationals efforts with sponsorship opportunities at the league level. Korn Ferry’s primary activities in sports to date have been in executive searches, but the firm works with brands and has a relationship with the Nationals, so the club will mine those contacts among high-ranking corporate leaders. The Nationals retained the two for the naming-rights project without an RFP process.

“This collaborative integration has great promise and potential for the marketplace and certainly will build upon everything the Nationals have done in D.C.,” said Noah Garden, MLB executive vice president of business, who will work on the project along with Liz Boardman, senior client partner for Korn Ferry’s global sports practice.

Camillo declined to estimate the price tag for naming rights. When Nationals Park first opened, the club was thought to be seeking between $8 million and $12 million a year, a sum that would have ranked among the biggest MLB naming-rights deals. Eight years later, the landscape is similar. Citigroup’s 20-year, $400 million naming-rights deal with the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves’ 25-year deal with SunTrust for their forthcoming Cobb County, Ga., ballpark, worth more than $250 million, stand far above other baseball naming-rights deals, typically worth in the low to mid-seven figures annually.

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