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An artist’s rendering of Parkview Field

First-ever name deal for city beneficial

On Thursday, the newest sporting venue in Fort Wayne joined the rest of the world.

Parkview Health announced it would pay $3 million over 10 years for the right to have its name atop the new downtown baseball stadium. Parkview Field will be the first major venue in the Summit City to have a corporate sponsor.

And it appears the city struck a good first deal, at least compared with other teams in the same league. Of the naming-rights deals disclosed in the Low Class A Midwest League, which includes the Fort Wayne Wizards, the $300,000 annual deal with Parkview is the most lucrative. The lowest fee was paid for Alliant Energy Field in Clinton, Iowa, which earned $450,000 over 10 years in a deal announced in 2002.

Jason Freier, owner of the soon-to-be renamed Wizards, said the fee might be higher, mostly because the Fort Wayne deal is the newest. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if future deals are higher. In fact, he said the local health non-profit corporation got a tremendous deal for its money.

Because the stadium is at the center of downtown, it will have high visibility for the sponsor, Freier said. Also it will be open to the public when games aren’t being played, so there will be additional foot traffic through the facility.

“It provides a better value at very similar pricing,” he said.

In Dayton, which is typically touted as a success story in the league, the Dragons signed a 20-year deal with Fifth Third Bank for $4.5 million. The stadium was built in 2000.

Jim Grinstead, editor and publisher of Revenues from Sports Venues, a trade publication that tracks the development of sports facilities, said negotiating a fee for naming rights varies by city and location of the stadium. He agreed with Freier that a downtown location typically drives higher fees because of the visibility.

“A lot more people will see that name and sign, than if that ballpark was on the edge of town,” he said.

What’s in a name?

But picking a company to name the field is a lot more than just a bottom-line decision, Grinstead said. Teams have to be careful to select a business that has a good reputation in the community and will likely be around for some time.

“If you ask the Houston Astros, they really wish they didn’t have Enron Field on their ballpark for a while,” he said, referencing the company that folded after being rocked by an accounting scandal.

Steve Brody, a consultant with the city, said there was an effort to get the best sponsor possible to reflect well on the Harrison Square project, which still has many opponents throughout the community.

This was even more important because it would be the first venue in Fort Wayne to have a corporate name. The team used to play in Memorial Stadium, and the other local sports teams play in Memorial Coliseum.

“Certainly we knew nothing like this had ever happened before in our community,” Brody said.

That is why hospitals and health providers typically make good partners, Grinstead said, because they are already respected and typically don’t fold. He lauded Parkview’s plans to offer health services, first aid and even healthier cuisine at the park as a good way to market its business.

“Health and athletics go together, so it’s a natural tie-in,” he said.

On a more superficial level, response last week was fairly favorable to the simplicity of the name: Parkview Field. Freier, however, said how the name sounded was not even part of the considerations in choosing a partner. He said he is glad it turned out to have a solid name, but it was actually up to Parkview to pick the name.

Mike Packnett, Parkview Health’s president and CEO, joked that Packnett Field was rejected by his board, but he stressed that the vision of the health system meshes well with baseball. This includes promoting health to the simplicity that Parkview’s logo is already a green diamond.

Other field names around the league consume many more syllables. The Cedar Rapids Kernels play at the “Dale and Thomas Popcorn Field and Memorial Stadium” and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers play at “Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium.”

But what makes a good park name is wholly a local decision, Grinstead said. Some choices may seem odd from the outside, such as Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, home of the Kannapolis Intimidators in Kannapolis, N.C. But that company is a major employer in the community, so it makes sense, he said.

The Midwest League’s Quad City River Bandits play in Modern Woodmen Park. The fraternal-benefits company is headquartered in the ballpark’s area.

Follow the money

Of the $300,000 Parkview will pay annually for the naming rights, half goes to the team and the other half goes to the city. The city’s money will be placed in a long-term maintenance fund. The money will be used for major capital projects, such as seat replacements, and will be appropriated by an advisory board of six members.

The city gets four appointees from different groups – the team owner has one and Parkview was given one as part of its naming rights’ deal. Brody, the city’s consultant, said granting the corporate sponsor a place on the board has always been a possibility. When Parkview requested it, he said it would be difficult to refuse because of the size of the investment the company is making.

The city’s stadium license agreement with the team’s owner says the naming-rights fees up to $300,000 will be split between the owner and the city. Any money above $300,000 would go directly to the city.

Freier said the city and team could have tried to negotiate more money by starting a bidding war among the finalists, but that would likely only create animosity and generate few additional dollars. He said that after a fee was determined, they worked to select the best sponsor.

Brody said the $300,000 annual fee meets the city’s goals for revenues. While the contract requires the city to put $230,000 annually into its maintenance fund, Brody said the city should easily be able to fill that gap without dipping into tax revenues.

For example, after 275,000 people attend events at the stadium, the city receives $1 for every additional person that comes to the stadium for a team-sponsored event. So if the stadium draws 355,000 baseball fans next year, it would cover those costs alone. Freier said the team’s announced attendance this year was 255,000, but he expects to draw 360,000 at the new ballpark.

Grinstead, of the sports trade publication, said assigning naming-rights money to long-term maintenance is a fairly common practice. The money is not typically used for operations but has been used to help pay down any debt required to build the stadium, he said.

The $30 million city-owned stadium is being financed from multiple taxing sources, including income taxes and property taxes generated by the project and the Jefferson Pointe shopping center.

For those upset the stadium will have a sponsor at all, Grinstead said that is simply the way sports businesses are run today. Because minor league baseball teams have no control over their players, they need to be creative in making money.

He said some teams are even having corporate-sponsored patios and parking lots. In all, of the 14 teams in the Wizards’ league, only four do not have naming-rights deals for their stadiums, and Kane County is trying to sell its rights to help pay for an expanded stadium.

“Naming rights are here to stay,” he said. “In fact, you’re probably only going to see more of it.”