Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. has "purchased the naming rights" to Cleveland Browns Stadium, according to Betty Lin-Fisher of the AKRON BEACON JOURNAL. The new name is "expected to be unveiled" today at a 2:00pm ET news conference at the stadium. The deal would mark the "first time a corporate name would be on Browns Stadium." When the Browns "returned to Cleveland as an expansion team bought by businessman Al Lerner, he said he did not believe the stadium should be named." But last August, new Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III said that he was "open to selling the naming rights." FirstEnergy and Browns officials yesterday "would not directly address speculation" about stadium naming rights. FirstEnergy, parent company of Ohio Edison, has a "sports sponsorship presence" in other areas of Northeast Ohio, including naming rights to the Univ. of Akron’s soccer stadium for $500,000. FirstEnergy’s name also is on a "minor-league baseball facility" with naming rights to the Double-A Eastern League Reading Fightin' Phils ballpark (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 1/15). In Cleveland, John Funk reported whatever FirstEnergy is "paying for the naming rights, by law the company cannot pass that cost on to its customers by increasing rates" (CLEVELAND.com, 1/14).
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross “unveiled an ambitious plan to make aging Sun Life Stadium as good as new and vowed on Monday to pay more than half of the cost,” according to Craig Davis of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. The Dolphins are “banking on the benefits of attracting events" such as Super Bowls, college football championships, int'l soccer and the Pan Am Games to "overcome lingering resentment" from the Marlins' stadium deal. The plan “revives the idea of putting an open-air canopy roof over the seating areas.” The stands would be “extended 18 feet closer to each of the football sidelines and add 3,700 seats to the lower bowl.” Wider, more comfortable seats “would be among the improvements for fans, and giant high-definition video boards would be added atop the four corners of the upper deck.” Asked why he will not pay for the entire project, Ross said, "I think I've made a bigger commitment than any other person in professional sports in the United States. You have a limit to how much capital you can put into something." Davis notes there is a “sense of urgency in pushing the project with South Florida in competition for the 50th Super Bowl with San Francisco.” NFL owners will vote May 22 to “award the milestone game in 2016 as well as the 2017 Super Bowl” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/15). Ross said, “The dollar amounts I’m prepared to put in are probably unmatched compared to any comparable facility in the country.” He added that in exchange for public funding, the Dolphins would “sign a contract pledging to stay in Sun Life for almost three decades” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/15).
DETAILS OF THE REVAMP: Project architect Kent McLaughlin said that the renovation “would take a little more than a year to complete.” In Miami, Adam Beasley notes work on the facility “would conflict with at least one football season but would not prevent the Dolphins from playing their home games at Sun Life Stadium.” Ross said of hosting the Super Bowl in ’16, “I want 50. It’s the marquee game. If we get this done, we’ll get the Super Bowl.” He said if the renovations are not done, “I don’t think we get it.” Beasley writes the “looming Super Bowl decision gives the Dolphins a convenient deadline, which they hope will create a sense of urgency in the statehouse and in county hall” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/15). Ross said that unlike the Marlins, he “would be willing to make available his team’s financial records.” Ross: “You can look at them. We believe in transparency. When you open it up, you get a lot more accomplished in life. ... I told the NFL they should have opened their books.” Ross said that the Dolphins are “modestly profitable.” He said that he is “waiting to see if this project will go forward before deciding whether to proceed with longstanding plans for a water park across from Sun Life Stadium.” Ross: “We’ll look into the water park (regardless), but it’s best to do it together” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/15).
CHOOSING WORDS CAREFULLY: In West Palm Beach, Ben Volin writes Ross and Dolphins CEO Mike Dee’s message yesterday was, “We’re not the Marlins.” Without referencing the baseball team directly, Ross and Dee said that they “understand the furor over the recent Marlins Park deal.” Dee said, “We recognize the public certainly has a feeling about the deals that have been done in the recent past in respect to stadiums and ballparks, and we have to approach this differently” (PALM BEACH POST, 1/15). Meanwhile, Univ. of Miami AD Blake James yesterday said that the school “plans to reduce capacity for many of its football games at Sun Life Stadium if the proposed stadium ‘modernization’ goes forward.” James said that capacity for UM games under the proposal “would be 72,000 for marquee games, but 52,000 for other games” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/15). In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly cited Dolphins officials’ statements from the renovation announcement (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 1/14).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In Ft. Lauderdale, Michael Mayo writes Ross “seemed reasonable,” and much of yesterday's pitch “seemed palatable.” Mayo: “But I still can't shake the sense this is just plain wrong. … I don't see why Miami-Dade politicians or the Legislature should bite” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/15). In Miami, Armando Salguero writes the Dolphins are “making this request right smack in the middle of the team's worst four years.” The truth is the Dolphins' “football moves have been hindering the business side for years now” (MIAMI HERALD, 1/15). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes the Dolphins “did a fine job delivering their public pitch for public money to renovate Sun Life Stadium,” and all things considered, it “was a worthy effort.” But Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria's legacy “just makes the Dolphins' money grab infinitely more difficult in South Florida.” For a public official to “have a chance for re-election, they'll need to see the Dolphins' books” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/15). FOXSPORTSFLORIDA.com’s Charlie McCarthy wrote asking a community “to invest in a fair deal for both sides can make sense.” People who think the NFL is “bluffing and that Miami always will be in the Super Bowl rotation should think again” (FOXSPORTSFLORIDA.com, 1/14). In Ft. Lauderdale, Gary Stein writes Sun Life Stadium “isn’t bad, but could probably use a little updating, and a few more amenities.” But the price tag of $400M “won’t fly.” Stein: “Nor should it” (SUNSENTINEL.com, 1/15).
The NFL Panthers last night asked the Charlotte City Council in a closed session for $125M to "help pay for renovating Bank of America Stadium," according to sources cited by Steve Harrison in a front-page piece for the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The team has been working on a "long-term renovation plan for the 17-year-old stadium." To pay for the renovations, council members discussed "increasing Mecklenburg County’s tax on prepared food and beverages by a penny." Sources said that the increase would "bring the restaurant/bar tax to 2 percent." Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson and President Danny Morrison "attended the meeting," which ended just after 11:00pm ET. The team has given "only a few details of what a renovation could entail." However, the team last fall said that Richardson wants to "add escalators to make it easier for fans to reach the upper bowl." Additionally, the team wants to "improve its video boards." The money for the Panthers would "reportedly not come from the city’s general fund, which is mostly paid for with property taxes." Some council members had "believed that money for the Panthers could come from an increase in the county’s hotel/motel occupancy tax." But sources said that yesterday's closed session meeting "focused on the prepared food and beverage tax" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/15). In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg noted the Panthers spent "much of the past year crafting a 10-year stadium master plan" for the renovation (BIZJOURNALS.com, 1/14).
Auto Club Speedway yesterday announced plans to "install a slide from its new Pit Box Lounge straight to a bar area, where unlimited beer and wine will be served during its March 23-24 race weekend," according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. Though the slide's design "hasn't been finalized, track President Gillian Zucker favors a curly q spiral to deliver fans -- who would pay $799 apiece for lounge access -- to the track's new Victory Lane Bar." The lounge was "built in converted suites at the Turn 4 end of an infield building that runs the length of pit road." There also is "roof access for ticketholders, but the alcohol included in the admission price is available in a ground-level area that formerly operated as Victory Lane." While some might not think a slide would mix well with alcohol, Zucker said that she "doesn't encourage fans to reach the level of intoxication to where it would be a problem." Bartenders at the track "already stop serving guests if they've had too much" (USA TODAY, 1/15).