December 18th, 2007

Civic's Out: Now It's The XL Center

By Mark Peters
Hartford Courant

XL is no longer just a jersey size in Hartford sports.

The two letters will anchor a new name for the Hartford Civic Center under an agreement to sell the naming rights of the landmark venue to XL Insurance.

“Hartford” will disappear from the name, and the familiar “Civic Center” moniker will no longer apply. Instead, the facility including the 16,500-seat arena and an exhibition hall will become the XL Center under a six-year deal set to be announced today.

The new name for the home to Hartford Wolf Pack hockey and many University of Connecticut basketball games will premier Wednesday with the sold-out “Hannah Montana” concert.

The XL Center follows a well established national trend of replacing traditional names with corporate monikers to bring in more money for arenas and stadiums. New England has several examples, from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence to the DCU Center in Worcester.

Northland AEG, which manages the Civic Center, declined to disclose the terms of the deal Monday, saying only that it’s a “seven figure” agreement that includes the addition of the XL name to the basketball court, hockey rink, stationery, tickets and signs inside and outside of the arena.

And although the name might not quickly change on the lips of Connecticut residents, XL will be mentioned repeatedly in TV broadcasts and newspaper articles.

The deal to sell the Civic Center’s naming rights for the first time in its 32-year history provides Northland AEG money for upgrades at the center and XL a chance to increase public awareness of its brand.

“I think the timing is right, and the partners are the right partners,” said Marie O’Brien, president of the Connecticut Development Authority, which has public oversight of the downtown center.

Northland AEG, which took over management of the Civic Center five months ago, is a partnership of Northland Investment Corp. and AEG Facilities. Northland Investment, headed by Lawrence R. Gottesdiener, is downtown’s most prominent property owner; the firm owns the Hartford 21 luxury apartment tower on the site of the old Civic Center mall, CityPlace II, Goodwin Square and other buildings.

XL is hardly a household name, even in a city that’s the traditional home of the insurance industry. Aetna, The Hartford, Travelers, Phoenix and CIGNA, among others, all have far higher profiles in the capital region. Aetna was a longtime owner of the Civic Center mall.

XL Insurance is part of the publicly owned XL Capital Ltd., which is based in Bermuda. XL Capital was founded in 1986 as EXEL Limited by 68 of the world’s largest global corporations in response to a severe shortage of liability insurance in the United States. The name “XL Insurance” is the global brand for XL Capital’s property-casualty and specialty insurance companies, which serve major corporations.

XL Insurance’s Hartford office has about 280 employees. Another part of XL Capital XL Reinsurance America is headquartered in Stamford.

“We have watched Hartford steadily rebuild over the years and we are very proud to be part of the renaissance of the city,” said John Glancy, chief underwriting officer of XL Insurance’s global professional unit, based in Hartford.

XL doesn’t fit the traditional mold for corporate sponsorship, said Jay Sloves, of Elkinson & Sloves, a Farmington-based marketing firm whose work includes sports marketing.

Arena and stadium names are typically sought by consumer products companies in travel, communications or financial services industries.

But the XL Center, he said, is likely to be effective for the insurance company even though it has a targeted, business-to-business audience compared with companies like TD Banknorth with the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

“Naming rights provide enhanced market value, especially for companies with lower name recognition,” Sloves said. “So in this case, getting the naming rights for the Hartford Civic Center will help level the playing field for XL Capital.”

Northland AEG will use the money from the sponsorship deal to reinvest in the center, said Tracy Shirer, the Civic Center’s manager of marketing and public relations.

Although the Civic Center’s name is changing, the actual arena will maintain its original name, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, she added.

Shirer and O’Brien, the CDA president, do not expect public opposition to adding a corporate name to a public building, saying the decision provides revenue to improve the experience of Connecticut residents who come to the XL Center.

Sarah Barr, a spokeswoman for Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said the mayor wasn’t concerned about the elimination of Hartford from the Civic Center’s name and instead saw the commitment of XL as a good sign for Hartford and the insurance industry here.

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