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Volume 21 No. 1
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Vikings hire Van Wagner for naming rights

The Minnesota Vikings have hired Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment as the sales and marketing agency for the team’s new $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis, slated to open in 2016. The project is the first naming-rights assignment for Van Wagner, which launched a team and venue services division in February, with the hiring of veteran naming-rights consultant Jeff Knapple.

In addition to naming rights, Van Wagner will be developing a revenue plan for the stadium.

Image by: HKS
Knapple pioneered the role of the third-party naming-rights sales rep, in which he has more than 20 years of experience. His past sales include Target Center, also in downtown Minneapolis, along with Staples Center in Los Angeles and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

“We like the experience Jeff

Jeff Knapple will lead efforts to sell the naming rights for the Vikings new stadium, scheduled to open in 2016.
and Van Wagner bring as far as naming rights and creating a revenue plan,” said Vikings CMO Steve LaCroix, adding that neither Van Wagner nor the Vikings had made any sales presentations yet.

Neither LaCroix nor Knapple would comment on pricing for the naming rights. One source close to the Vikings, however, said the asking price was $10 million to $12 million a year over a 25-year term.

“We want to get farther along in the design of the building before we have a full sales plan,” LaCroix said. “The goal is to create opportunities where potential partners can have a part in designing aspects of their partnerships with the facility.”

Design and technology enhancement are places where Knapple wants to take his nascent Van Wagner unit. So at a time when NFL officials from the commissioner on down are saying that improving the venue experience is the priority, Van Wagner is extending its capabilities beyond sales.

Accordingly, Van Wagner has acquired Venue Research and Design, the consulting practice of Bob Jordan, former MetLife Stadium vice president of design and construction, to serve the burgeoning technical needs of sports venues (see related story). Additionally, Van Wagner has fashioned a joint venture with venue content specialist Big Screen Network, which operates video boards and content for some of the biggest sports events, including the Olympics, Final Four and more than 20 consecutive Super Bowls.

“Fan experience is an area every owner is looking to address now, and we are looking to serve those needs,” said Knapple. “Look at what [parent out-of-home ad sales company] Van Wagner did in Times Square, where advertising became an enhancement. We’re looking to do the same kind of thing in stadiums. We’ll still do sales, of course, and build sponsorship architectures for teams, but we’re getting deeper into the stadium business per se.”

The Vikings in September selected HKS as stadium architect, a firm that also designed Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Groundbreaking for the Vikings’ new stadium, being built on the site of what opened in 1982 as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, is slated for next year. Taxpayers will fund $498 million of the $975 million stadium cost, and the team has already applied to host the 2016 Super Bowl.

While an NFL naming-rights opportunity always attracts interest, as one of the largest and most expensive pieces of sports marketing inventory, those deals have not bounced back to pre-recession levels. CAA is selling naming rights for the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium due to open in 2014, but it has yet to close a deal. Industry sources said that deal is priced at $15 million a year. Cowboys Stadium opened three years ago and still has no corporate name. Outside the NFL, the Miami Marlins opened their futuristic MLB ballpark in April without a corporate name.

Minnesota is also a relatively small market, which has nonetheless supported two naming-rights deals (Target Field, home of the Twins, and the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium) and other large pieces of venue sponsorship inventory over the past four years.

“An NFL deal is still very attractive and at some point those naming-rights numbers will have to account for the fact that the NFL’s [TV] rights holders have added a lot of viewers over the past few years,” said Front Row Marketing President Chris Lencheski. “Any NFL naming deal should have a basement of $15 million to $17 million a year.”