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Naming rights deals vary greatly in MWC

Boise State University's basketball facility is named Taco Bell Arena thanks to a $4 million deal that runs from 2004-2019. (Courtesy of Boise State University)

Boise State University’s basketball facility is named Taco Bell Arena thanks to a $4 million deal that runs from 2004-2019. (Courtesy of Boise State University)

It’s difficult enough to compare naming-rights deals for college basketball arenas because of the numerous differences in local economies, arena marketing – both nationwide and locally – of arenas, the population and such. But it’s even tougher to compare based on the new numbers of arenas that have sponsorships.

Matt Ensor, assistant director of communications at UNM, researched the number of collegiate basketball venues with title sponsors before the school’s deal with WisePies was announced. His discovery is that UNM is in rare company following its $5 million, 10-year deal with WisePies.

“In looking at all 345 NCAA Division I basketball programs, I researched the number of programs who play in a college basketball arena (no professional or semiprofessional teams) with naming rights from a company headquartered or founded in the same state. Including the University of New Mexico, I counted a total of 25 schools out of 345 (7.2%) in this unique situation. Of the 25 facilities, only eight are west of the Mississippi River.

“This applies to naming rights deals for the facility itself and not department-wide naming rights deals for all facilities. This research is preliminary and in no way error free.”

That said, the Journal contacted every school in the Mountain West Conference to compare basketball arena naming rights sponsorships, and found the following:

  • Air Force/Clune Arena: named after former athletic director John Clune as a memorial. No money donated.
  • Boise State/Taco Bell Arena: 15 years for $4 million. It runs from August 2004 to July 2019.
  • Colorado State/Moby Arena: No sponsor but actively searching for one.
  • Fresno State/Save Mart Center: $40 million over 23 years from Pepsi, passed through naming rights to Save Mart Supermarkets.
  • Nevada/Lawlor Events Center: Named after a former coach, no financial deal.
  • New Mexico/WisePies Arena: $5 million cash gift over 10 years.
  • San Diego State/Viejas Arena total of $6.878 million for a 10-year deal with the Viejas Indian Tribe. It started in 2009. There are two payments annually with a 3 percent escalator each year.
  • San Jose State/The Event Center: No sponsorship.
  • UNLV/Thomas & Mack Center: Named after two Las Vegas bankers, but no sponsorship or donation for naming rights. Seeking naming rights for the entire complex, which includes the arena, Cox Pavilion and The Mendenhall Center.
  • Utah State/Dee Glen Smith Spectrum: Built from a large donation from Dee Smith, founder of Smith’s Grocery stores, but the school did not provide amount.
  • Wyoming/Arena-Auditorium: No naming rights for arena, but received $3 million for naming the floor after an individual. Undergoing a $30 million renovation. Received $10 million from private donations and seeking naming rights for another $10 million.

The search begins

In July 2013, UNM deputy athletic director Tim Cass said the athletic department was looking to shoulder the burden on its $3 million annual cost of paying off the debt on the Pit, which had a $60 million renovation completed in 2010. Officials said that had been the plan since 2008.

According to Cass, UNM said it was looking for $10 million to $15 million for naming rights. Last summer, Lobo athletic director Paul Krebs, in a speech to a group at UNM, said he was hoping to pull in around $20 million for naming rights.

This week, when asked what UNM hoped for vs. what it got, Krebs said, in an email, “there is no simple answer. … The amount was dependent on the length of the deal, amount of annual payments over length of time, corporate name or private individual. When Tim and I tended to reference the numbers above, it was in the context of a naming gift in perpetuity. This kind of permanent gift would demand a much higher amount than a 5-, 10-, or 15-year naming rights. Over the life of the building, we were hoping for 10-15 million. This gift certainly makes that number well within our reach.

“We have a list of all naming rights deals from around the country and based on the length of payment and the size of our market, and our lack of corporate headquarters in ABQ, the amount of the WisePies donation is very fair and comparable.”

Not an easy hunt

There often is a big difference, of course, in what you want and what you can get.

Colorado State is in the process of finding that out now as it searches for naming rights to both Moby Arena and its new football stadium, which is in the planning stages.

Gary Ozzello, senior associate AD at the school, told the Journal that the Rams are actively soliciting naming rights, but did not reveal figures on what they hoped to receive.

Kevin McKinney, the senior associate athletic director for external operations at Wyoming, told the Journal that Arena-Auditorium is undergoing a $30 million renovation, and the name for the facility is up for sale.

“We asked for $10 million up front. No takers,” McKinney said. “We sought out individuals, rather than corporations. It’s cleaner, corporations being sold, etc.”

McKinney said they “never did get to the length of time for the naming rights. Would have negotiated that with the individual.”

For the sake of comparison, Wyoming named its basketball floor Maurice Brown Court. Brown “is in oil exploration,” McKinney said, and “he donated $3 million in full, up front.”

The university has raised $10 million in private funds toward the $30 million project. The state of Wyoming will match gifts of $25,000 or greater. If someone donates $25,000, it turns into a $50,000 gift.

Boise State has sponsorships in place for years to come. The football team plays in Albertsons Stadium. Albertsons LLC committed $12.5 million over 15 years to BSU for the naming rights to the school’s famous blue-turf stadium. The agreement secures Albertsons Stadium through 2028.

But the basketball program, which has far less of a national brand than does its football team, has a sponsorship deal of its own – Taco Bell Arena.

The naming rights package is for $4 million over 15 years. It runs from August 2004 to July 2019.

For years 1 through 10, the cash payment to Boise State is $200,000 per year. The cash payment increases to $225,000 for years 11 to 15. Included in the total cash payment is a yearly academic scholarship the sponsor pays to the university. It is also making payments to an endowed scholarship.

Air Force’s Clune Arena was named after former athletic director John Clune, but as a memorial. No money was donated.

Fresno State plays in the Save Mart Center. Stephen Trembley, the school’s director of news media for the athletics department, said the sponsorship is for $40 million over 23 years.

“The sponsorship is with the Pepsi Bottling Group,” he said. “Pepsi passed through naming rights to Save Mart Supermarkets, hence The Save Mart Center.”

The arena, which cost $100 million to build, is 40 percent funded by Save Mart, a closely held Central California supermarket chain, and Pepsi Bottling Group. Save Mart took the name; Pepsi secured campus-wide pouring rights. The building opened in November 2003.

San Diego State has had a pair of sponsors for its basketball arena, which opened in 1997. It was known as Cox Arena at Aztec Bowl until 2009, then renamed Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl.

Mike May, SDSU’s associate athletic director for media relations, says the 12,414-seat venue has a sponsorship with the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians for $6.878 million for 10 years. It started in 2009.

The Viejas Band owns a nearby casino, but May said no advertisements for the casino are allowed in the arena.

May said the agreement calls for two payments annually with a 3 percent escalator each year. He said there were two $600,000 payments the first year.

Nevada plays its basketball games at Lawlor Events Center, named for former basketball coach and athletics director Jake Lawlor. None of the school’s current facilities has a naming-rights sponsor. Its football, baseball and softball facilities are named after university benefactors.

Nevada athletics spokesman Chad Hartley said the school has not engaged in any negotiations to rename the arena.

San Jose State plays home games at The Event Center. It is located on and is owned by San Jose State University. There is no sponsorship attachment to the building.

University spokesman Dominic Urratia said “there haven’t been any considerations for a sponsor of The Event Center. The facility is a multipurpose venue owned and run by the university and not athletics.”

UNLV plays its men’s basketball games at the Thomas & Mack Center, named after prominent Las Vegas bankers Jerome Mack and E. Parry Thomas and opened in 1983. Mike Newcomb, the executive director of the Thomas & Mack Center, Sam Boyd Stadium and Cox Pavilion, told the Journal that Thomas and Mack “were involved in the original planning, land studies and feasibility studies, and without them the project would not have happened. There is no sponsorship or dollars tied to the naming.”

A smaller arena, Cox Pavilion, was added to the structure in 1999. It is where the UNLV women’s basketball and volleyball teams play and where the NBA Summer League and other events are held.

Newcomb said Cox has its own deal, based on signage, cable advertising, suite ownership and some cash.

He said Cox Communications has held the name since the opening, and “we are in the second extension from 2013 through 2017 for $250,000 per year.

“TMC and Cox are separate deals, however some of the Cox advertising elements are in TMC as well as the suite they have.”

Thomas & Mack is currently under a $47 million renovation to be completed in 2016.

Newcomb said, “We are currently in the process of contracting with a consultant who will help us secure naming rights for the complex, which will include the Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavilion and The Mendenhall Center.

“… It would be a name for the entire complex and the Thomas & Mack name and brand would stay intact. We will be investigating the term and dollar figure with our naming rights consultant CSL.”

Utah State plays at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Smith, the founder of Smith’s Food and Drug, gave a large donation to the school in Logan, Utah, to help build the venue.

The school didn’t respond to numerous requests asking how much the donation was.

The arena, originally known as the Assembly Center, opened in December 1970.