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Volume 20 No. 46


The sales team at Premier Partnerships spent the first four months of the year contacting more than 300 companies to gauge their interest in buying naming rights for the Rose Garden, but it hadn’t found any serious buyers.

But in May, one of its sales executives, Uzma Rawn, read a news brief in the Portland Business Journal about local insurer ODS Health changing its name to Moda Health. She knew companies going through a rebrand were good targets for a naming-rights deal and began to research Moda immediately.

Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan and Moda Health President Dr. William Johnson announce Moda’s deal to put its name on the Rose Garden in Portland.
“I saw on their website that Moda derives from the Latin word ‘modus,’ which means ‘the way,’” Rawn said. “In their annual report, they talked about how they were going to be a trail blazer. They were going to lead the way. Literally, the stars seemed to align. It seemed like the perfect fit.”

Rawn called the company and ran the opportunity past its president, Dr. William Johnson, who saw an opportunity to connect with the community at a time when he was trying to raise the company’s brand awareness. Last week, nearly three months later, Johnson and Moda completed a 10-year, $40 million naming-rights deal with the Portland Trail Blazers that will see the team rename the Rose Garden as Moda Center.

“Without our rebranding, we probably would not have done this,” Johnson said last week. “The rebranding is where the synergy is. The goal is really to enhance our brand recognition, and along with that we’ll definitely increase our market share.”

Moda, which provides insurance in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, is the No. 2 individual insurer in the Pacific Northwest. It reported revenue of $1.6 billion and profit of $10.4 million in fiscal 2011.

The deal gives the company naming rights at a venue that hosts 200-plus events a year. TV, radio and digital advertising inventory is included in the sponsorship and naming-rights package, and the company also becomes a sponsor of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders, which along with the Trail Blazers form the core of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Sports & Entertainment.

Moda is the Trail Blazers’ first naming-rights partner, and Allen was insistent that the team find a way to preserve the Rose Garden in the new logo for Moda Center. As a result, the Trail Blazers hired the local advertising agency Ziba Design to develop a logo that features a rose. That image is expected to be released in late September.

“We’re always going to be conscious of the Rose Garden,” Trail Blazers President Chris McGowan said. “It’s part of our history and heritage.”

The deal is Moda’s second in sports. It also has a jersey sponsorship with Seattle’s women’s soccer team, Seattle Reign FC.

The Trail Blazers hired Premier Partnerships in January to lead the naming-rights sales effort. In addition to Rawn, President Randy Bernstein and marketing director Erin Prober worked on the deal.

Steve Scott, Trail Blazers vice president of corporate partnerships, and McGowan represented the team in negotiations, while Johnson and CMO Steve Wynne, who previously worked at Adidas, represented Moda.

The U.S. Tennis Association is seeking to borrow up to half a billion dollars to fund the $550 million renovation of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a project the group formally disclosed last week and that ultimately calls for roofs over the facility’s two main stadiums.

Earlier this month, the USTA sent a request for proposals to finance firms, seeking a lead lender. The financing would easily be the largest borrowing ever by the USTA, and almost assuredly the largest in the history of the sport.

Rendering shows roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“We don’t have a pile of money to be able to do the things we need to do to make the [National Tennis Center] the pre-eminent sporting venue in tennis, and in sports, so we have to be borrowing some money,” said Gordon Smith, the USTA’s executive director.

The USTA, which operates the tennis complex, will not raise money through the sale of personal seat licenses, Smith said. He decried that approach as burdening the Open’s fans with the cost of the renovation.

According to the plans announced last week, the renovation would include a roof over the center’s main stadium, Arthur Ashe Stadium, at a price of at least $100 million. Plans also call for new show courts two and three (named Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand), with a roof being part of the Armstrong plans as well. A viewing platform for the center’s practice courts is also in the plans.

The Ashe roof would be in place at the earliest by 2016, with the complete renovation project done by 2018. The master planner is Rossetti.

While the USTA is not sitting on any “pile of money,” as Smith said, the group does have substantial resources, starting with the more than $250 million in annual revenue brought in by the U.S. Open, the 2013 version of which starts next Monday. More than half of the revenue is booked as profits, though the USTA spends most of the sum funding its mission to promote the sport of tennis in America.

As of the end of 2011, the USTA claimed assets of $223 million, most of that in liquid form such as investments and savings, according to the group’s most recently filed tax return. The National Tennis Center as of the end of 2011 had assets of $253 million, though the bulk of that was in “accumulated depreciation,” according to the tax return of the center, which files separately from the USTA.

Financial sources said the USTA should have little trouble raising the desired funds. The sources, who asked for anonymity because they might bid on the business, cited the Open’s profit margins, the sizable assets related to the event, and the tournament’s stable position in the sports marketplace.

A top contender to lead the lending is JPMorgan Chase, the Open’s top sponsor. Smith even said jokingly during last week’s press conference about the renovation plans that from an aerial view, the rendering of the new Ashe with a roof has a top that looks like the bank’s logo.