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Volume 20 No. 42
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BB&T, Florida Panthers extend arena deal

The Florida Panthers have signed a long-term extension with BB&T for naming rights to their arena, a deal that could extend over 20 years.

The initial term with Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T runs 10 years, said Michael Yormark, president of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the team and the arena, whose name officially switches from BankAtlantic Center to BB&T Center today. The agreement also includes two five-year options.

Sunrise Sports and BB&T officials refused to disclose the value of the deal, but industry sources valued the agreement at $3.7 million a year. That would be the most lucrative naming-rights deal for a major league arena in Florida, considering Amway Center’s deal, valued at $4 million a year, was done internally. The DeVos family owns both Amway Corp. and the Orlando Magic, the arena’s NBA tenant.

In South Florida, the extension materialized over the past month after federal regulators approved BB&T’s purchase of BankAtlantic at the end of July. BankAtlantic had held the arena’s naming rights for the past seven years in a deal that was to expire in 2015.

BankAtlantic’s deal, valued at $3.2 million annually, was torn up, team officials said, and the Panthers negotiated new terms with BB&T for the 19,250-seat facility in Sunrise, Fla., a Fort Lauderdale suburb.

For the Panthers, it was important to get the new deal done, considering the challenges for securing naming rights, Yormark said. In Miami, the Florida Marlins opened their new ballpark this year without a naming-rights partner. Sun Life Stadium, home of the Dolphins, has naming rights through 2014, but the 25-year-old venue has struggled historically to keep a corporate name on the building.

BB&T hopes its name on the hockey arena, shown in this rendering, will develop greater brand awareness in South Florida.
“BB&T didn’t have to do a long-term deal,” Yormark said. “The bank could have easily just assumed the existing rights for the next three years. It is making a strong commitment.”

The bank’s sponsorship reflects its strategy for developing greater brand awareness in the local market, said Mike Oster, BB&T’s president for the South Florida region. The region of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties has about 6 million residents.

BB&T’s purchase of BankAtlantic has vaulted its market share to sixth from 11th in South Florida, and it has expanded from 70 to 115 branches, Oster said. BB&T first entered the market in 2009 after buying Colonial Bank.

The arena’s position in South Florida as a top draw for concerts and family shows was a key factor for BB&T signing a long-term deal, Oster said. Over the past year, the arena booked about 100 events in addition to 47 hockey games, Panthers officials said.

The bank is now the team’s Premier Pillar Partner, a platform reserved for the Panthers’ biggest sponsor. BB&T receives dominant arena signs and an extensive media advertising campaign covering Fox Sports Florida game broadcasts, radio, print, billboards and social media.

BankAtlantic’s naming-rights deal, signed before the Panthers took control of their television and radio rights two seasons ago, gave the old bank minimal media advertising, Yormark said.

BB&T’s brand exposure extends to its logo painted at center ice for Panthers games and on the basketball floor used for the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic, a college basketball tournament played at the arena in late December.

The bank also receives exclusive use of two suites; four seats in Club Red, the arena’s new center-ice club; and more season tickets in the bowl.

The bank also has naming rights to a minor league ballpark under development in Charlotte and a few sports facilities in its hometown of Winston-Salem. It is title sponsor of the BB&T Atlanta Open tennis tournament and the official bank of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big South Conference.

The bank supports Auburn and Alabama sports programs through donations to those SEC schools’ athletic departments, deals it picked up through its purchase of Colonial Bank, said Merrie Betbeze Tolbert, a BB&T spokeswoman.

BB&T Center is the fourth corporate name for the Panthers’ home. The facility’s first naming-rights deal with National Car Rental Center dissolved after the company’s parent firm filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001.

As a result, the value of National Car Rental’s deal fell from $2.2 million a year to about $1.4 million after Office Depot took over naming rights in 2002 as part of a “distressed sale” of the rental car firm’s assets, Yormark said. BankAtlantic took over the arena’s naming rights in 2005.