April 8th, 2008

Bobcats Ink Naming-Rights Deal with Time Warner

Charlotte Business Journal

Charlotte’s uptown arena will be renamed Time Warner Cable Arena, under a naming-rights deal between Time Warner Cable Inc. and the Charlotte Bobcats.

The name change for the venue—known as the Charlotte Bobcats Arena—will occur over several months.

And in a related agreement, TV broadcasts of the NBA team’s games will move to Atlanta-based regional network Fox Sports Net South from Time Warner’s Carolina News14.

Financial terms of the deals weren’t disclosed.

Time Warner Cable currently holds TV rights for 50 Bobcats games per season on its local news channel through 2015. The station can be seen only in parts of Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro with a combined reach of 1.2 million homes. Industry experts have said the limited distribution has harmed the Bobcats’ ticket sales because much of the target audience can’t see the team play regularly.

The new TV deal begins with Tuesday night’s FSN South broadcast of the Bobcats’ game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

FSN South will carry 70 Bobcats games each season, in addition to other team-related content, beginning with the 2008-09 campaign.

FSN South broadcasts to 4 million homes across the Carolinas. The channel also broadcasts the majority of games played by Raleigh’s Carolina Hurricanes, an NHL franchise.

Shifting to FSN South will also make games available to viewers with satellite TV subscriptions, expanding the number of viewers who can see Bobcats games. Such a move would also make it much more likely for bars and restaurants, which often have satellite systems, to show the team’s games.

“This is the most significant development for Bobcats Sports & Entertainment since the Bobcats were awarded the franchise in Charlotte,” says Robert Johnson, majority owner of the Bobcats. “The fact that we were able to get this complex deal done demonstrates the commitment of our organization to raise the profile of Charlotte and the excitement of Bobcats basketball.”

The agreements cap 15 months of negotiations and are the first example of a major professional sports franchise completing an arena naming-rights deal and a broadcast-rights contract simultaneously.

In addition to the name change, the $265 million, publicly funded uptown arena will be branded with Time Warner Cable advertising, logos on playing surfaces and a concourse gallery featuring the company’s programming and products.

Putting Time Warner Cable’s name on the arena resolves a long-running search for a corporate name for the uptown arena.

The 19,026-seat venue opened in October 2005. Team executives expected to reap $5 million or more annually from naming rights when the building opened. Instead, the Bobcats went through several consultants in an attempt to draw interest from potential suitors.

Whatever fee Time Warner Cable is paying for its naming rights on the arena, it is expected to be steeply discounted. That’s because a reduced fee was likely needed to secure a release from the News 14 pact. Also, the value of the naming rights have declined because the arena has been without a corporate sponsor.

As of Sept. 30, New York-based Time Warner (NYSE:TWC) had more than 446,000 basic cable subscribers in the Charlotte area. 

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