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Volume 24 No. 115


The Saints and Mercedes-Benz yesterday announced that they “have reached a 10-year naming rights agreement that will turn the 36-year-old Louisiana Superdome into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome,” according to a front-page piece by Nakia Hogan of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Saints, Mercedes-Benz and state officials “are expected to make the official announcement at a news conference” today at the Superdome, “where they'll unveil plans for the new signage in and around the stadium where the Mercedes-Benz name and logo will be featured prominently.” The city will be hosting the BCS National Championship game in January, the NCAA men's Final Four in April and the Super Bowl in '13. Those events and the “success and stature of the building's primary tenant -- the Saints -- helped persuade Mercedes-Benz to sign on.” Although financial terms “weren't available, the deal between the luxury automaker and the NFL franchise is expected to guarantee that the state will not pay the team any more direct subsidies.” In the current lease agreement, the Saints "get the first $1 million of net revenue from the naming rights deal, with a 50-50 split between the team and the state of the remaining revenue, although the state's share is in credits toward the subsidy payments, not cash." While the Saints' “top brass and marketing department were working feverishly to find a company to buy the naming rights,” Saints Owner Tom Benson’s wife Gayle “asked her husband why not give the German automaker a try.” Benson, a "longtime Mercedes dealer, talked with some of Mercedes-Benz's top decision-makers." He and his wife "even flew to Germany in April to meet with” Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche. A week later, Mercedes-Benz -- which "doesn't have its name on any sports buildings in North America, although it does have naming rights deals at a stadium in China and in Germany -- was ready to get a deal done" (New Orleans TIMES-PICUAYNE, 10/4). USA TODAY’s Woodyard & McCarthy note the name change “takes effect Oct. 23,” when the Saints host the Colts on NBC’s “SNF” (USA TODAY, 10/4). Sage Collective was involved in the naming rights negotiations and will manage the sponsorship (THE DAILY).

LOCAL FLAVOR: WDSU-NBC’s Fletcher Mackel said the Superdome is “arguably the most recognizable structure in the metro area, and though the stadium belongs to the state, the contract between Louisiana and the Saints gives the team control of sponsorship.” Mercedes-Benz is “jumping on-board at the right time” as the Superdome is set to host several high-profile sporting events. WDSU's Scott Walker said, “A rebranding more than a decade in the making” (WDSU-NBC, 10/3). WVUE-Fox’ Jennifer Hale said the deal “benefits taxpayers and furthers anchors the team” in New Orleans. The effort "to sell the naming rights to the Louisiana Superdome spans more than a decade” (WVUE-Fox, 10/3).

The Columbus City Council last night "approved using casino money to purchase Nationwide Arena," according to a front-page piece by Doug Caruso of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. The council approved the measure 6-0, with council member Zach Klein "abstaining because his law firm worked on the deal." The vote authorized Mayor Michael Coleman to "pledge a growing share of the city’s casino tax revenue to help the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority purchase Nationwide Arena for $42.5 million, and to pay millions more to operate the arena through 2039." City officials said that the deal would help keep the Blue Jackets "in town and preserve thousands of jobs in the Arena District." Coleman's Chief of Staff, Michael Reese, said, "None of us want to see an arena that could go dark if we were to lose the anchor tenant." City Auditor Hugh Dorrian said that the agreement "allows the city and Franklin County to pay off the loans on the arena early if casino revenue comes in higher than expected ... but to pay back the loans more slowly if the revenue is lower" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/4). 

Palace Sports & Entertainment yesterday downplayed a SportsBusiness Journal report that "said it was looking to sell the naming rights to the Palace of Auburn Hills," the home of the Pistons, according to Katherine Yung of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. PSE VP/PR Kevin Grigg said the company has hired Wasserman Media Group "to evaluate strategic partnerships across all of our business properties with the goal of enhancing the overall fan experience and servicing of our customers." But he noted "the team is not looking specifically at naming rights for the Palace of Auburn Hills at this time and no decisions have been made at this point" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/4). Pistons and PSE President Dennis Mannion said, "We are not specifically looking for a naming-rights partner. We like The Palace name. That's not the intention of Wasserman. We're looking for the potential for a strategic partnership to see if we can better our fan experience." Mannion added that PSE's new ownership group, led by Tom Gores, is "evaluating every facet of the fan experience at The Palace -- from when fans pull into the parking lot to the time they leave after a game or concert." He said that "improvements to the luxury suites and making The Palace more kid-friendly are among the goals of the new management" (DETROIT NEWS, 10/4). Industry experts estimated a naming-rights deal for The Palace could be worth $2.5-3M a year. Mannion said, "We’re not in this to get a bunch of money for a building name, but if we can get a deal that improves our fan experience and drives revenues, that’s where we want to go. We want a marketer that will bring novel execution" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/3 issue).

EPL club Chelsea is “paving the way for a possible move from Stamford Bridge by proposing to buy back the pitch and stands which are owned by a supporter-led group,” according to Jason Burt of the London TELEGRAPH. The club insisted that “there is nothing ‘active’ in terms of leaving the Bridge,” where the team has played since 1905. But Chelsea Chair Bruce Buck yesterday said, “We have to be prepared for a move if something right comes along for Chelsea.” Three areas “have been identified as possible sites,” although there are “no discussions at present.” If Chelsea did move they would “like then to redevelop the Stamford Bridge site for a mix of residential and commercial use to help pay for the switch, with the rest of the costs being met by bank finance and probably a contribution from owner Roman Abramovich.” Chelsea is “calling an extraordinary meeting of the Chelsea Pitch Owners association for Oct 27 where they will need to gain 50 per cent approval from the shareholders in attendance.” Buck has “ruled out a ground-share with either Queens Park Rangers, who are looking to build a new stadium, or Fulham.” Burt notes the club has spent around US$924,000 “exhausting every possibility to expand or rebuild Stamford Bridge to increase its 41,800-capacity, including flattening the stadium and rotating the pitch, deciding that neither of these options is cost efficient.” Buck and team CEO Ron Gourlay said that it was “highly possible that Chelsea would decide to remain at the Bridge” (London TELEGRAPH, 10/4). In London, Sam Wallace notes Chelsea wants “the option of building a stadium with a capacity of around 55,000-60,000 to compete with the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal.” Chelsea officials "have been reluctant to give any details of a possible move until now," when the issue with the Chelsea Pitch Owners “forced their hand” (London INDEPENDENT, 10/4).

Packers Dir of Security & Risk Management Doug Collins apologized yesterday for the "long lines fans had to endure to get into Lambeau Field" for Sunday's game against the Broncos. Collins said that the team and the Green Bay Police Department "would study a range of options to get it right for the next home game" on Oct. 16. In Milwaukee, Don Walker notes on Sunday, "thousands of fans were unable to get into the stadium in time" for the 3:15pm CT kickoff. The NFL this season "ordered teams to enhance security," and the Packers and police "elected to use hand-held metal-detecting wands on fans entering the stadium instead of a full pat-down search" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 10/4).

PHONE IT IN: In Indianapolis, Anthony Schoettle reports city officials are "set to finalize a multimillion-dollar deal to expand the wireless-device bandwidth in and around Lucas Oil Stadium in time for the Super Bowl Feb. 5." Indianapolis Capitol Improvement Board Exec Dir Barney Levengood, whose municipal corporation owns and operates the stadium, said that wireless phone providers "will pay the cost, though he declined to provide details because the deal hasn't been signed." Officials for the "three major wireless providers involved in the project -- Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint -- said it's a seven-figure project, and that part of the work already has begun." The wireless providers said that in addition to "paying to upgrade bandwidth, they'll make lease payments to CIB for the space where they'll put their equipment" (INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/30 issue).

MAKING A PLEA: In Edmonton, Jodie Sinnema reports with "less than a month until a Katz Group-imposed deadline for a deal on a downtown arena," Oilers President & CEO Patrick LaForge is "pleading for supporters to increase pressure on politicians to push through the plan." LaForge in an e-mail yesterday said, "I am sending this note to our key supporters because now is the time to mobilize. If you and your organizations support the proposed downtown arena and Edmonton Arena District, it is important that you be heard and make your support known." LaForge "wouldn't say how many people or exactly to whom he sent the message." But he indicated that he "sent it to personal friends who asked for more information and facts about the issue" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 10/4).