February 1st, 2008

What's in a Name? Not Enough, Nassau County Finds

By William Murphy
Newsday

Nassau County’s fast-track effort to sell naming rights to county properties has gone over with a thud among prospective corporate sponsors.

Only one bid came in late last year, and that was for $1.6 million for the package of several county venues, far short of the $4.5 million in anticipated revenues that officials had budgeted for this year.

The county said yesterday it would revamp its bidding process to try again to turn a Nike swoosh or a Speedo logo into county revenue.

The name does not matter so much as the quality of the proposal and the amount of money offered, officials said.

“This is a new and uncharted area for the county and for local governments, so it’s not surprising that we have to go out to bid again,” Deputy County Executive Ian Siegel said in an interview yesterday.

He said the county had golf courses, parks, an aquatic center and other prime assets, and he was still “optimistic” about the $4.5 million figure.

The naming rights phenomenon began years ago when sports teams saw the benefit of selling the names of their arenas. However, these were usually complex deals that also involved the corporate sponsor with team activities.

Now, local governments like Nassau are looking toward naming rights and corporate endorsement deals as a way to minimize budget cuts and tax increases.

“The world of naming rights that started with sports facilities and large arenas has trickled down to municipalities, and now you even have local high schools offering naming rights to help support their sports programs,” marketing specialist Adrian Staiti said.

But, “the bidding process with local governments, issuing request for proposals, is much slower. It’s much more complicated,” said Staiti, a vice president of Front Row Marketing Services of Philadelphia.

Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman expressed concern about the county’s naming rights effort. He noted that projected revenues would amount to only a small part of a $2.5-billion budget that he said had several risky income assumptions totaling $57 million.

“Included in that risk was the $4.5 million in parks naming initiatives,” Weitzman said in a statement. “We remain concerned over the budget because the pieces necessary to eliminate these risks have not yet fallen into place.”

There also were indications that the Nassau bidding process suffered from more than just growing pains. Some of the buildings offered for naming were not located in the county, according to correspondence between the county and prospective bidders.

One bidder called the time frame for the bidding “unrealistic,” although the county disagreed. Another asked why the time limit to submit bids could not be extended. In reply, the county said: “This is a high priority project that the county wants to implement as soon as possible. Further, it is the county’s belief and expectation that proposers will be able within the allotted time frame to prepare high-quality proposals.”

Siegel said the only problem with the bid request was that it sought to lump all county venues into one proposal, while bidders might wish to pick and choose. The only firm to submit a bid, VB Advertising, could not be reached for comment.

Now, Siegel said, the county will accept separate bids by the middle of this month for ads on kiosks, trash receptacles, and bathrooms in public parks, and beverage pouring rights at county facilities.

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