March 13th, 2008

Multiple Firms May Be Part of Rights Deal

By Kathy Bergen and Jim Kirk
The Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Cubs are closer to a partial stadium-naming-rights deal with one or more major corporations, though the historic Wrigley Field moniker is expected to remain in some fashion, sources close to the situation said Wednesday.

Cubs owner Tribune Co. is hoping a combination of deals, involving at least three companies, will bring in $20 million a year over 20 years, a sum that would be on par with selling naming rights to one large corporate sponsor.

In addition to a presenting sponsor, the club intends to sell naming rights to various parts of the park, much as the New York Yankees are planning to do with its new stadium, which will open next year and retain the name Yankee Stadium.

Sources said the Cubs would likely fetch upward of $12 million a year for partial naming rights. The rest would be generated by sponsorship deals for other sections of the park. It is unclear whether a corporate name would be part of the official name of the building.

Tribune has acknowledged having had talks with three possible corporate sponsors but has declined to identify them. A Tribune Co. spokesman declined to comment late Wednesday.

But speculation has been swirling, and among the names cropping up as potential buyers of partial rights are State Farm Insurance Cos. and Walgreen Co. As well, Tribune is pushing for Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. to begin paying for the right to have the Wrigley name at the 94-year-old park.

Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, which has a signage deal at the park and is a sponsor of Major League Baseball, rejected the rumors as unfounded Wednesday evening. A spokesman for Deerfield-based Walgreens, contacted after business hours, said he was unaware of any plans along these lines.

William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum company’s chairman, did not rule out buying naming rights during comments made at the company’s annual meeting Wednesday. But the prospect did not appear to be likely.

Tribune Co., which also owns the Chicago Tribune, put the Cubs up for sale last year as part of an $8.2 billion transaction led by billionaire Sam Zell to take the company private. In an attempt to get greater value for the asset, Tribune officials have been pursuing a strategy to find a buyer for the team while separately seeking to sell the ballpark to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.

The authority is expected to make its bid late this week or early next week. The proposal is expected to include plans for $350 million to $400 million in renovations, and the deal would be financed with 30-year tax-exempt bonds to be paid off with naming rights fees, team lease payments and growth in sales taxes at the park.

As Tribune Co. considers it options, sources say Cubs executives have spent time with Yankees officials studying that team’s sponsorship model. While traditionalists in Chicago have cried foul over the potential loss of the Wrigley Field name, the Yankees have been reluctant to part with their eponymous stadium name because it is a strong part of their brand identity.

Rather than selling naming rights to the entire new stadium, the Yankees are selling portions of it to different corporate sponsors, noted stadium expert Marc Ganis, a consultant on the project.

“Because the team is constructing and designing a new stadium, it is able to make various entrances and seating sections branded with particular sponsors,” said Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd. The sections “will be identified on tickets, marketing materials, stadium maps, graphics at the stadium, which approximates the kinds of things a company would receive as a naming-rights sponsor.”

Ganis said the Yankees should be able to rake in more than the New York Mets, which set a record when they sold naming rights to Citigroup Inc. for more than $400 million over 20 years.

He declined to discuss the Wrigley Field situation.

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