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Will ballpark get new name?

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 7:21 p.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) 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.
Real Salt Lake soccer stadium is under construction in Sandy. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) Real Salt Lake soccer stadium is under construction in Sandy. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)
"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.
More than the others, EnergySolutions and Franklin Covey clearly have an image or product to promote.
"We believe that what we do is vital to the nuclear industry," EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker of said the company that cleans up and disposes of hazardous waste. "To better understand what we do, you've got to have some name identification."
Walker would not divulge the financial terms of the 10-year deal EnergySolutions reached with Utah Jazz and arena owner Larry Miller.
Franklin Covey believes its investment boosts name recognition.
"It reminds the public Franklin Covey has seven stores in the state and that we're a viable entity that's still providing service. It keeps us top of mind when people think of corporate or individual training," Lund said.
Or has it been around so long now that baseball fans just think of it as a place to see a game? Maybe that's one of things Franklin Covey is weighing as it considers its future in baseball.
Franklin Quest initially turned down the city's offer to buy the name, but reconsidered.
Former Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini took heat for enlisting Franklin Quest to help pay for the stadium. Some called it crass commercialism, while others said the contribution wasn't enough to warrant its name on the marquee.
Howard said public outcry to corporate naming has subsided in recent years.
"People are so inured to it now. They're like, 'OK, that's what the landscape of sports is all about,"' he said.
Teams would be better off, Howard said, to attract a company with a retail component, which is what RSL has its sights on.
"I'd prefer it would be a consumer brand, something that meant something to people. And that's not an attack on EnergySolutions, but they don't even sell to consumers, so why would they name a building like that?" RSL owner Dave Checketts said in a Deseret News story last month. "The reason is obviously to help their political and other clout, and we may find somebody like that before it's all over."
Meantime, it seems West Valley officials have been in a state of perpetual negotiation for naming rights at the E Center, short for Events Center, since it opened in 1997. They turned down $8 million from Colorado-based beer maker Coors in 2000. The search continues.
Should the Franklin Covey lettering be removed from the ballpark, it would be the second major name change in a Salt Lake sports venue. The Delta Center, the longtime home of the Utah Jazz, became EnergySolutions Arena in 2006. Delta Air Lines was struggling to the emerge from bankruptcy at the time.


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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