Name game may mean more money for city

How does the Starbucks Tacoma Dome sound? Or how about the Microsoft Tacoma Convention Center?
Those are at least possibilities, as last night the City Council voted to enter into an agreement with the Cleveland, Ohio-based Superlative Group to learn the estimated value of naming rights for the Tacoma Dome, Cheney Stadium and the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, which is currently under construction.
Not only would the $58,000 study by the national naming rights company assess the the value of such rights, but it would also determine which companies would be willing to pay to put their names on those publicly-owned facilities.
“More and more convention and conference centers are looking at naming rights to provide additional income for construction and to offset operating expenses,” said Mike Combs, director of Public Assemblies Facilities, in a press release.
“It’s also an exciting opportunity for us to partner with area companies that may want to reinforce their brands in our market.”
Money raised via naming rights could also go toward fixing up and improving the Tacoma Dome and Cheney Stadium.
The Tacoma Dome, the world’s largest wooden-domed arena, opened in 1983.
Cheney Stadium, the home of the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, was built in 1960 and is the oldest ballpark in the Pacific Coast League.
Last May voters rejected a $5 million bond measure for improvements to Cheney Stadium.
“It’s a method of upgrading buildings,” Combs said. “It saves the taxpayers money.”
He declined to speculate how much the naming rights could be worth, saying that would be determined by the assessment.
The Superlative Group’s process for Tacoma would have three phases:
n Assess the marketplace to determine the value of naming rights for each facility. That will take about 90 days.
n Develop a blueprint for how to implement a naming rights plan and determine who are suitable customers. This phase would take about 30 days.
n Implement the sale. This would take from six months to a year.
According to Brian Hicks, manager of municipal marketing for the Superlative Group, most naming rights sales are locally or regionally based.
“We present naming rights to municipalities as an alternative form of raising revenues without raising taxes, thus providing new funding for programs and services that cities can provide to the residents,” he said in the press release.
“We will work closely together with the City of Tacoma to ensure that any naming rights partner will be in the best interest of the city.”
Combs said the valuation process will include three or four site visits by Superlative Group personnel, as well as discussions with the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce and corporations within the market.
Sensitive to perceptions of rampant commercialism and area residents’ familiarity with the names Tacoma Dome and Cheney Stadium, Combs stressed the City Council has only voted on the first phase of the project.
The city just wants to know how much the naming rights are worth, he said, adding that doesn’t necessarily mean the city will sell the naming rights.
“You’ve got to crawl before you learn to walk,” he added.
Naming older buildings with a long history, like Cheney Stadium, is more controversial than naming new buildings.
Combs said that if renaming Cheney Stadium came about, the new name would be incorporated with the current name.
Naming rights is, of course, nothing new. One need only look to Seattle, home of Key Arena and Safeco Field.
The naming rights business has boomed since the late 1980s, but began earlier.
The National Football League’s Buffalo Bills were the first to sell the naming rights to a stadium in the late 1970s when Rich Foods put the company name up on the marquee.
Now the practice has expanded to include everything from selling the pouring rights for drink manufacturers at public facilities to offering the names of civic buildings to the highest bidder.
The Superlative Group sold the naming rights to the Cincinnati Red’s new baseball stadium to the Great American Insurance Company.
The new facility will open in April 2003 as the Great American Ball Park.
The firm also recently brokered naming rights for a stadium that’s home to Midland Texas’ AA team, is working on an assessment for Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals and Dade County to determine a value for its municipal properties, including its parks, performing arts auditoriums and airports.
If approved by the City Council, the first phase of the project should be completed by June 1.