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Rooney Fleeced in Naming Rights Deal

June 15, 2001 by Still Mill


Rooneys Fleeced in Deal for Stadium Naming Rights

As you should have seen by now, the Rooneys have agreed on a bid from Heinz, in which Heinz gets the naming rights to the new stadium at a price of $57M (no, it's not a pun) over a 20-year period.

In its typically overly-polite manner, the Post Gazette stated in its article, "The Steelers' deal with Heinz isn't as lucrative as naming-rights deals in some other cities�The Denver Broncos have a $120 million, 20-year deal with Invesco Funds to call their new football stadium Invesco Field at Mile High. That deal takes effect this season, when the field opens. The expansion Houston Texans, which will begin National Football League play in September 2002, have the record deal so far -- $300 million over 32 years, or almost $10 million a year. The buyer is Reliant Energy Corp, a Houston-based power company. That deal topped the previous record-holder, FedEx Field, in which the overnight package delivery company paid $205 million over 27 years -- or slightly more than $7 million a year -- to the Washington Redskins."

Says the Post-Gazette in a most nonchalant form, "Heinz appears to have gotten a bargain. New stadiums in Denver and Baltimore, for example, fetched $120 million and $105 million, respectively. And one in Houston went for a whopping $300 million over 32 years, or almost $10 million a year. Heinz, by comparison, is paying about $3 million a year."

A bargain ?? How 'bout an outright fleecing? How 'bout grand larceny, which can carry a prison term of 40 years ??

Not since the US hoodwinked the Indians for Manahattan at a cost of $22 worth of trinkets has someone been robbed so badly. That is, if you also factor out the deal in which the USA paid a piddly $48M or so for the state of Alaska.

In typical fashion, the Stiller management piddled, pissed, and farted around for months, and even years. This stadium has been underway for well over 2 years now, and here's Rooney, painted into a corner just weeks away from opening it. Rooney, who had plenty of time and a BOOMING economy to maximize his earnings --- as well as plenty of time to continue to moan the blues about his "woe is me" financial condition --- instead has to accept a low-ball bid from the BILLIONAIRE (that's billionaire, not millionaire) Heinz family. I tried to contact the Heinz family for a comment, but the butler, who had to shout on the phone over the load ruckus in the background, explained that the family was too busy "whooping it up", as he said, with a celebratory party that had been going on the past 17 hours. The Heinz's are laughing themselves silly over this one.

Sure, the economy is a bit tighter than it has been the last 2-3 years�.all the MORE reason why Rooney should have struck when the iron -- and the economy --- was hot, not cold. Why'd this deal occur in June 2001, rather than November 2000 ? Or June 2000 or December 1999 ?? Furthermore, did Rooney limit his sales pitches to only the local area? Knowing Rooney, quite probably. Or, if not, he may have made a couple phone calls -- after 5 PM of course, in order to save long distance charges -- to a VERY FEW out-of-town firms.

Remember, Rooney has been the man crowing about how his stadium was going to be the centerpiece of a North Side booming entertainment center. Was that part of his sales pitch when he accepted an offer that is less than 30% of what an organization that doesn't even field a CURRENT football team is going to earn from its naming rights?

On top of that, let us not forget that TWO teams -- not just one -- will be using this stadium. The Pitt Panthers will play 5 or 6 home games a year in this stadium, a few of which will be on national or multi-regional TV. Pitt plays in the Big East, one of the top conferences in the land, and plays such nationally-followed foes as Va. Tech, Miami, and Syracuse, as well as non-conference foes such as Notre Dame. Pitt has risen to the caliber where it has gone to bowl games in '97 and '00, and has one of the front-runners (WR Antonio Bryant) this upcoming season for the Heisman Trophy. Ergo, unlike nearly all, or all, of the rest of these new NFL stadiums, not only will the name of this stadium be uttered during NFL broadcasts, but also during NCAA broadcasts as well.

Lest I hear anyone pointing to the Carolina Panthers' deal with Erricson, fuhgedaboutit. That deal was in 1996, long before the prices of naming rights skyrocketed. And before anyone tries to point out the coddlesome part of the PG story that says, "Some possible buyers may have been scared off by the initial Steelers' demands, which were said to be in the $90 million to $100 million range", I'll cut that one off at the knees, too. Note the word "may". Does the PG have any specific firms who have publicly announced that they were "scared off"? Answer: NO. It's incredible how a stadium in Denver -- a city not much larger than Pittsburgh, can fetch $6M per year -- TWICE as much as what the ever-astute Rooney managed to squeeze out of the largesse of the Heinz ketchup bottle. And I don't want to hear a peep about any nonsense of "He should have named it Art Rooney Field and not made any money from it". Aside from the fact that Duquesne University's small football stadium/field is already named after Art Rooney, this is a stadium that is consuming considerable public funds, and as such, has a duty to "make up" as much dollars as it can on naming rights, which are a hot & heavy commodity worth millions and million of dollars. To refuse to accept any money for naming rights would be downright fiscal insanity. Finally, someone will inevitably point out that "the team is still considering selling naming rights to some gates, etc." To those, I say "You are the weakest link." Someone might pony up a few dollars for the right to name a certain gate�..but for peanuts, not millions. The naming right has a value based on the venue's name being uttered in TV and radio broadcasts, as well as print-media coverage. None of that coverage ever utters the names of all 10 gates that fans enter the stadium. Like the deckchair atop the Titanic, these piddly revenues will be insignificant to the mega-millions that come from the pure naming rights of the entire facility.

The real losers of this fleecing? The voters of Allegheny County. They voted down the stadium tax in the Nov. 1997 referendum. But then slick political maneuvering circumvented that vote, and state funding was still used to fund a majority of Rooney's capital investment. Meanwhile, Rooney will continue to sob and cry the blues, yet never admit to the outrageous fleece-job he allowed to occur with this meager naming-rights deal.

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES. Perhaps the Rooneys should take a page from Billy Conn, The Pittsburgh. Kid (watch ESPN Classic on Jun. 16th at 9 PM EST for a segment on the classic bout against Joe Louis), who muttered right after his famous loss to Louis: "What's the sense of being Irish if you can't be stupid?"



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