Will ballpark get new name?

Published: Monday, April 14 2008 12:35 a.m. MDT

Franklin Covey Field is leased to Bees owner Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment Group, which is looking for a corporate partner.

Danny Chan La, Deseret News

The home of the Salt Lake Bees might not be Franklin Covey Field forever.

Executives at the Utah-based business management and training company are contemplating whether to renew a soon-to-expire 15-year naming rights agreement with Salt Lake City. The city-owned ballpark is leased to Bees owner Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment Group.

"We don't know what we're going to do," said Franklin Covey spokeswoman Debra Lund. She would not elaborate on the company's internal discussions.

Bees representatives have met with Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker in the past couple of weeks and anticipate meeting with Franklin Covey "in the very near future," said Randy Rigby, president of Miller Sports & Entertainment.

"We're anxious to address that sooner than later," he said, adding the city intends to turn negotiations over to the Bees.

Rigby said the team has fielded inquiries from companies interested in putting their names on the stadium. It's waiting on talks with Franklin Covey before pursuing them.

Franklin Quest contributed $1.4 million — $600,000 from the company and $200,000 each from four of its principals, including Sen. Bob Bennett — toward construction of the mostly taxpayer-funded $18 million park in 1993. The name changed after Franklin Quest and Covey Leadership merged in 1997.

Miller Sports & Entertainment has discussed but not finalized with Becker a dollar amount the team and city will ask for naming rights. Rigby said it will be more than what Franklin Covey paid.

The going rate for Triple-A baseball stadium naming rights is "all over the place," said Dennis Howard, a business professor at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.

The Fresno Grizzlies set the bar when the Chukchansi Tribe, which has gambling operations in central California, agreed to pay $16 million over 15 years to have its name on a now 2-year-old ballpark. At other end of the spectrum, the Principal Financial Group signed a 10-year $2.5 million deal with the Iowa Cubs, who renovated their stadium in 2006. The difference between the high and low, Howard said, is whether the park is new.

Howard expects Salt Lake City to be "close to the bottom" of the scale.

"With so many companies already investing with sports naming rights, there aren't many left," he said. "As the pool of prospects shrinks, so does the rights fee."

And the Bees aren't the only team in town looking to secure a corporate partner. Real Salt Lake had three prospects as of last month for its new stadium, according to team owner Dave Checketts.

RSL is seeking $1.5 million to $2 million annually over 10 years, figures comparable to what the Colorado Rapids soccer team is reported to get from a 20-year contract with Dick's Sporting Goods.

But Howard said RSL's expectations aren't reasonable.

"It's hard to think of the team getting that kind of value," he said. "They would be doing well to get about $500,000 a year."

Some 75 percent of major league sports franchises and 80 minor league baseball parks have corporate names on their stadiums, which Howard said diminishes the value "because of all the clutter.

"It used to be there was an anomaly effect," he said. "It really was a way to differentiate your brand."

Naming rights can be a prickly subject for corporations considering how to spend their marketing dollars. And the name itself can turn off sports fans who identify not only with the team but the place in which they play.

There are major 15 sports venues between Provo and Logan, most of which reside on college campuses. All but two — the RSL stadium under construction in Sandy and the E Center in West Valley City — bear the name of an individual or company.

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