New stadium offers the ultimate marquee

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2012 - 2:37 AM

If the project wins approval, the Vikings should have no trouble inking a lucrative deal for naming rights.

For the Minnesota Vikings, a new stadium means a clean slate. And for a few hundred million or so, a Minnesota company can get top billing on that slate.

As part of the proposal to build a $975 million stadium at the current Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis, the Vikings would receive all revenues for the new venue's naming rights.

The return could be substantial to the franchise. Adding a corporate namesake to an NFL stadium could fetch the Vikings anywhere from $100 million to $500 million, depending on the length of the deal, the size of the TV market, stadium perks, and if the facility hosts special events, like the Super Bowl.

Given the rarity of such projects and the instant goodwill and prestige bestowed upon the sponsor, the naming rights to a new NFL stadium arguably represent the most grandiose marketing opportunity in Minnesota.

"It's a once-in-a-generation kind of thing," said Scott Becher, executive vice president and director of partnerships for Zimmerman Advertising, who has worked on deals with the NFL and U.S. Olympic Committee.

Such a marketing move could offer a company national brand exposure as well as give it local clout for helping the stadium thrive. A company would also gain all the bells and whistles that come with a new facility, like luxury suites and premium services.

So who is going to step up? With 20 Fortune 500 firms, Minnesota certainly doesn't lack companies with financial firepower. But money isn't the only factor when considering a stadium rights deal. Whether it's national brand exposure, currying favor with clients and government leaders, or good old-fashioned public relations, potential suitors bring their own motives to the table.

Right now, the smart money seems to be on Target Corp. The Minneapolis-based retailer already owns the naming rights to Target Center, home to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the $517 million Target Field, where the Minnesota Twins play.

That a single company could name all three major sports facilities in one city would be unprecedented. For this reason, Target may decide to pass, fearing overexposure of its brand and wallet.

However, the rare opportunity to go three for three in stadium names may prove too much for Target to resist. The retailer may be well represented in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, but the NFL is the most popular and lucrative sports league in America.

"Target doesn't get as much from their two [current naming rights] deals as you would think," said Adam Chase, an attorney specializing in sports business for Dow Lohnes law firm in Washington, D.C. "The NFL is the market dominator in sports today. There's no doubting that."

Target declined to disclose the financial terms of its deals with Target Center and Target Field. Some analysts suspect Target might have dropped $200 million over 25 years for the baseball field.

Still, Target officials didn't rule out a stadium bid.

"Target is pleased that there is an agreement to keep the Vikings in Minneapolis," spokeswoman Amy Reilly wrote in an e-mail. "The Vikings are a valuable asset to the downtown community, contributing to the cultural diversity that makes Minneapolis a great place to be. As the stadium will not be built for several years, it would be premature to discuss naming rights at this time."

Best Buy Co. Inc., however, isn't biting. The Richfield-based consumer electronics giant, a frequent Super Bowl advertiser, has no interest in naming the stadium, said spokeswoman Susan Busch.

Financial service firms have been friendly to the NFL. Eight of the 31 NFL stadiums are named for such companies, the most of any industry, including the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MetLife Stadium in New York, and EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Minnesota is well represented in this area: U.S. Bancorp, Ameriprise Financial, Piper Jaffray, Travelers Companies, and TCF Bank, which owns the rights the new University of Minnesota football stadium.

U.S. Bancorp could be a top candidate. CEO Richard Davis has been working hard to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, as negotiations continue on the stadium proposal among state lawmakers, the governor and the Minneapolis City Council.

Davis has often wished that the Minneapolis-based bank receive more credit for its community work. Naming the Vikings stadium could certainly help his cause. A U.S. Bancorp spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Ameriprise certainly hasn't shied away from big marketing campaigns, which have featured such celebrities as Dennis Hopper and Tommy Lee Jones. Cracking the NFL could help the Minneapolis-based company better pitch its retirement products to baby boomers, its core customer group.

"We have no comment on this one," spokeswoman Stacy Houseman wrote in an e-mail.

What about the Vikings' current naming partner? In 2009, the Mall of America and team signed a three-year deal worth a reported $6 million for "Mall of America Field" at the Metrodome.

"Can't really speak to a new stadium since that is still only a proposal by our legislators," MOA spokesman Dan Jasper wrote in an e-mail. "I can tell you that our partnership with the Minnesota Vikings has been very good, and we have found value in being the field naming rights sponsor for Mall of America Field. As the stadium issue moves forward we can connect again."

But given the proposed downtown stadium's $975 million price tag, it's probably safe to assume the Mall of America would have to pay significantly more than $2 million a year for naming rights. And mall officials have previously suggested the new Vikings stadium would be out their price range.

And a study by researchers at Temple University and Moravian College says naming rights offer few, if any, financial benefits to the company.

"When firms announce that they have purchased the naming rights to a sports facility, they routinely describe the purchase as a savvy investment," the study said. "Our main finding is that naming rights offer no economic value to the firms that buy them. "

In any case, experts say a suitor would want to sign a deal well before stadium construction begins. Waiting until after the stadium opens would dilute the benefits of naming the facility, said Becher of Zimmerman Advertising.

"You want to be the first one to have your name on the building before it is even built."

Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113

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