Consol wins naming rights for arena


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Consol Energy Inc. will pay millions to the Pittsburgh Penguins to put its name on the new publicly owned arena where the hockey team will play.

The naming-rights deal is for 21 years, but neither Consol nor the Penguins would say precisely how much money will change hands.

The $321 million arena, to open for the 2010-11 hockey season, will be called Consol Energy Center.

Mario Lemieux, co-owner and chairman of the Penguins, said during a news conference yesterday that the Consol money would help keep his franchise competitive.

For Consol, a coal and gas company that employs nearly 8,000 people, the venture with the Penguins will heighten its visibility and perhaps its name recognition.

J. Brett Harvey, Consol president and chief executive officer, said his company was founded in 1864 and is committed to seeing the Pittsburgh area grow. Consol Energy Center, which will host concerts and shows as well as National Hockey League games, will be one component of a vibrant region, he said.

Mr. Harvey said his company has advertised at Penguins games, notably as the sponsor of a giant television screen outside Mellon Arena during last season's Stanley Cup playoffs. The time seemed right to deepen the partnership by buying naming rights to the new arena, he said.

Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based company, guessed that the Penguins will receive at least $2 million a year from Consol and perhaps twice that figure. He said it would be money well spent by Consol.

"This is going to put them on the map nationally," Mr. Ganis said.

Rob Vogel, president of the Bonham Group, a sports marketing company based in Denver, said his organization helped the Penguins prepare to evaluate corporate bidders for arena naming rights. Because the Penguins were a client, he would not talk about how much the team would make.

Mr. Vogel, though, said Consol would strengthen its brand from its link to the Penguins.

Of Pittsburgh's three major-league franchises, the Penguins were the only one that declined to divulge the terms of naming rights for a new venue.

H.J. Heinz Co. is paying $2.85 million a year across 20 years for sponsorship of Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.

PNC Financial Services Group is paying $1.8 million a year for 20 years for the rights to PNC Park, where the Pirates play. Both of those deals were negotiated in the early 2000s.

Josh Boyd, an associate professor of communication at Purdue University, said companies that sell products or services directly to the public typically were the ones to compete for stadium naming rights.

But in today's economy, Dr. Boyd said, an energy company was better positioned to spend money on naming rights than other types of businesses.

"Carmakers and banks cannot be involved if they're going to seek government bailouts and deny customers credit," he said.

Some 30 years ago, only three professional sports stadiums were named for corporate sponsors. They were Rich Stadium outside Buffalo, N.Y., the Great Western Forum in suburban Los Angeles and Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif. A few others stadiums, such as Wrigley Field in Chicago, had corporate names tied to ownership interests.

Today, a majority of stadiums carry the name of a corporate sponsor. The downside of this trend, Dr. Boyd said, is that stadium names can change with high frequency.

He said the ballpark of the San Francisco Giants, for example, has had three names -- Pacific Bell Park, SBC Park and AT&T Park -- in eight years.

Another problem has been the occasional failure of a company that attached itself to a sports franchise.

The Houston Astros ballpark was once named for Enron, the bankrupt and scandal-ridden energy company. The venue eventually was renamed as Minute Maid Park.

Adelphia, the telecommunications company, lost the naming rights to a football stadium in Nashville, Tenn., after filing for bankruptcy and failing to make a required payment. Nashville's stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, is now called LP Field, for a company that manufactures building products.


Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956. First Published December 16, 2008 5:00 AM


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