Frozen tundra to get new name
Michael Hiestand, USA Today
Another landmark stadium is about to drape itself in a "Your Name Here" sign.
But with city officials and Green Bay Packers executives meeting July 15 to start the process of selling corporate naming rights to the team's Lambeau Field, nobody is playing the usual roles.
The Packers owners can't make a dime off their investment. And Bob Harlan, the franchise's president and chief executive officer, is unequivocal: "My story has never changed. I'm against selling it."
Then there's Green Bay Mayor James Schmitt. Too often, local officials don't push to maximize their returns from teams they subsidize. And Schmitt acknowledges the NFL's smallest city got its "identity around the world" from the Packers and that Lambeau is "an icon."
But putting a corporate name on Lambeau, he says, "is about fulfilling the will of the voters. And I can't help it if the Packers oppose it. We're going to do it."
So if you're appalled by the possibility of, say, a weed-eater brand buying the name of the home of the world's most-famous frozen tundra, you have an unlikely villain: Joe Blow. Harlan notes the obvious: "There are a lot of things about this that are bizarre."
About $4 billion worth of stadium or arena naming rights deals have been struck since 1993. So it might seem inevitable that the name of team founder Curly Lambeau, who played at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne and is remembered with a statue at the stadium, would have to go. But the Packers, who narrowly averted financial collapses in 1921, 1922, 1934 and 1950, seemed different. In what is either the sports world's biggest sucker bet or its greatest testament of fan loyalty, 110,901 shareholders own the team. They don't get dividends on their 4,748,909 total shares and can only sell them with the team's permission — and not for a profit or even a loss.
Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field are the only other big-league venues in longer continuous use than Lambeau, which was built in 1957. And in 2000, 53% of local voters passed a 0.5% sales tax that would help pay $160 million of a $295 million Lambeau renovation. Months later, 53% passed an "advisory" referendum to sell naming rights to help phase out that tax. Says Schmitt: "There's nothing more emotional around here than the Green Bay Packers and taxes. And while we love our Packers, around here, we also watch our pocketbooks."
Selling Lambeau's name might not fatten them. The team already is increasing its stadium revenues, going from 20th among NFL teams two years ago to 10th last year, by means such as doubling luxury suite prices — top suites now cost $115,000 annually. But buying Lambeau's name won't come with any of the extras included in naming deals, such as suites or lots of stadium signs. The city and the team already have agreed any buyer would have to pay a hefty $100 million "present value," meaning today's dollars.
Consultant Dean Bonham, negotiating his seventh naming rights deal, isn't optimistic that will fly: "I have one word of advice on this for the city of Green Bay: Punt."
But Rick Horrow, a consultant on 22 stadium deals, says this isn't business as usual: "This should be viewed as involving a Wisconsin historic treasure, not traditional commercial naming rights."
Couldn't the Packers just find another way to find the money? "I hate to get into that before the July 15 meeting," Harlan says. "I'd hate to give people ideas."