September 29th, 2008

Rio Tinto Gets Naming Rights to New Real Soccer Stadium

By Michael C. Lewis
The Salt Lake Tribune

The new home of the Real Salt Lake soccer team will be known as Rio Tinto Stadium, under the terms of a naming-rights deal with the world’s largest coal-mining company that is set to be announced at a press conference Monday.

The Rio Tinto Group, the multi-billion-dollar mining conglomerate that owns Kennecott Utah Copper and the sprawling Daybreak housing development in South Jordan, will pay between $1.5 million and $2 million annually for 15 years under terms of the deal, sources said.

Team spokesman Trey FitzGerald declined to comment.

The deal confirms speculation in online soccer forums that Rio Tinto would acquire the naming rights of the Sandy stadium - one post noted that RSL had registered to acquire two Web addresses related to the stadium name - and fills in the long-awaited final blank in advance of the stadium opening Oct. 9. That’s when RSL will play New York on national television before an expected sellout crowd.

It also compares favorably to other naming-rights deals in Major League Soccer.

The three newest stadiums in the league, all opened within the last 28 months, have signed naming-rights agreements worth between $750,000 and about $2 million a year, according to news reports. The Colorado Rapids signed a 20-year deal for Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver, while Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire have 10-year deals for BMO Field and Toyota Park, respectively.

Naming-rights are one of the major sources of revenue for new stadiums, and RSL owner Dave Checketts has said he expects it to help his franchise make nearly $3.5 million in annual profit within two years, after losing between $3 million and $4 million a year until now.

On the field, RSL is fighting to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in its four-year history, and could potentially clinch a spot in its second game at the new stadium against FC Dallas on Oct. 18. The team is in a tie with the rival Rapids for third place in the MLS Western Conference with four games to go; the top three teams in each conference automatically qualify, along with the two teams with next-best records, regardless of conference.

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