Sacramento plans to sell naming rights to downtown convention center, community theater

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Sacramento is looking for a business willing to spend millions of dollars to have their name in the lights above the door of the convention center and community center theater.

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Taking a page from the Kings Arena fundraising handbook, city of Sacramento executives this summer launched a hunt for a company willing to spend millions to have its name displayed above the convention center door.

Officials say they may be able to sign agreements with several companies on naming rights for facilities and other sponsorships worth up to $ 20 million, to help fund $ 200 million of planned improvements and expansion costs for the convention center on 13th and K streets and the community center theater next door.

The city will have a lot of competition as it seeks sponsors with deep pockets.

The financially struggling Sacramento Regional Transit District hired a sponsor headhunter company in hopes of making extra money by selling the naming rights to local businesses for its lines and stations. Light Rail.

Sacramento Republic FC is in talks with companies about a naming rights deal for its planned 20,000-seat stadium in the downtown train station, and may close a deal within the next year. , said team officials. Stadium naming rights deals have become increasingly lucrative for MLS franchises; Banc of California signed an agreement with Los Angeles Football Club last year on a 15-year, $ 100 million contract for the new stadium for this expanding franchise.

And a Sacramento regional transportation planning group trying to introduce a BikeShare program in town has been in talks with a large company about a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal that would display the company’s name on 900 public use bikes. for rent around the corner. .

These efforts are competing for funds with private entities constructing buildings for public use, including the Powerhouse Science Center group, which is seeking a naming rights deal for its experiential education center in science, technology, science and technology project. engineering, mathematics and space on the Sacramento River to the north. from Old Sacramento.

Elsewhere in the state, San Diego and Fresno have started to consider selling naming rights and other sponsorship rights to their convention centers. It’s a national trend, born in the gloom of the 2000s recession, when governments ran out of money and cut services and postponed improvement projects.

The Sacramento Kings pioneered the concept in the 1980s, signing gas company ARCO as their arena name sponsor in Natomas. Most recently, the Kings named their new downtown arena the Golden 1 Credit Union in exchange for credit union sponsorship payments that would total $ 120 million over 20 years.

The city was considering offering convention center naming rights before that, but officials said the Kings’ lucrative deal with a Sacramento-based company was eye-opening.

“Certainly the success of the Kings has further strengthened the concept for us and encouraged us,” said Desmond Parrington, a city official who is overseeing the effort. “The fact that they were able to do that, I think, shows that we were selling ourselves short.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he was hoping for a naming rights count of around $ 20 million.

“We shouldn’t hesitate to speak with reputable sponsors,” he said. “I think given the growing importance of Sacramento as an arts and entertainment center, we have every capacity to get big names to consider partnering with us. “

Steinberg said local businesses and families will be seriously considered for a naming rights deal, but the search will not be limited to Sacramento.

The practice of auctioning the naming rights of public buildings to private companies has occasionally attracted criticism, but it has become the norm for public universities and among private companies that own places for public use.

The B Street Theater recently announced that it will name its next venue on Capitol Avenue the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts in recognition of a $ 1.5 million donation from the Tsakopoulos family. At UC Davis, the Mondavi family provided funds to complete the construction of the nationally known university performance hall. The new downtown Sutter Medical Center facility bears the Anderson Lucchetti Women’s & Children’s Center name in recognition of significant donations.

City officials have said they will choose a respectable bidder whose company or family name is seen as a plus, not a PR controversy. “We have a digital goal to achieve, but it must also be consistent with our community values,” said the mayor.

Notably, the city demanded similar discretion from the kings when planning the new arena, stating in a contract that “any name proposed to be associated with (the arena) must be in good taste and not be a cause embarrassment for the city and should not include businesses primarily known for tobacco products, guns, etc.

Barry Broome of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, which tries to attract Silicon Valley businesses to Sacramento, said efforts to merge business interests with civic improvements made sense.

“It’s a positive sign that the community is maturing, more vibrant and people are more forward thinking,” he said. “When you share resources, you gain influence and you can do more exciting things.

With multiple entities seeking sponsorship simultaneously, are there enough deep-pocketed companies ready to market themselves in new and speculative ways?

Harry Laswell, executive director of the Powerhouse Science Center, said he was concerned the answer was no. Powerhouse has received a combined $ 5 million from three major sponsors – PG&E, Aerojet and SMUD – but is looking for more, including a naming rights sponsor.

“You can’t do a project like this in this community without corporate sponsors,” Laswell said. “Unfortunately, the individual philanthropic community in Sacramento is not very deep to support projects of this magnitude. People who can write checks over a million dollars, there aren’t many.

Kyle Canter, an executive with The Superlative Group, a national sponsorship headhunter based in Cleveland, is more positive. Sacramento’s financial stack looks mundane compared to Los Angeles and San Francisco, he said. But the local economy is growing, the central city is gaining cachet, and the city has an asset that elevates it beyond cities of similar size, Canter said. “You are the capital of one of the world’s largest economies. You are a single market.

The City of Sacramento and SacRT each hired Canter’s company separately to explore market possibilities and help each approach the companies separately to discuss sponsorship deals.

City officials and Canter recognize that these and other entities may compete with each other. Businesses have limited promotional and advertising budgets – money that could be spent more conventionally, on items such as billboards or television advertising.

The City of Sacramento, for its part, will be looking outside of Sacramento for the convention center complex, which could be the biggest naming rights deal available in the city after the Kings Arena. Sacramento City official Parrington said the city is hoping for a package involving both exterior and interior sponsorship opportunities.

“We are looking for businesses in the city, but also beyond,” he said. “You have (national) businesses that may want to establish a presence in California and naming rights are a great way to do that. The convention center and community center theater are directly across from the Capitol.

Sutter Health, the region’s largest employer and a major philanthropic organization, said it was willing to discuss the idea with the city. The company recently donated $ 1.5 million to the B Street Theater, matching Tsakopoulos’ donation.

“Where it makes sense within our mission, we believe in investing in and supporting other local organizations (including government) that contribute to the health and vitality of our community,” said the door. – spoken by Sutter, Nancy Turner.

No site naming rights deal will approach the dollar value of sponsoring the Golden 1 Center arena, Canter said. This facility enjoys national and national television coverage during basketball games and receives repeated national mentions every time a major concert takes place.

Naming rights for convention centers will create considerably less national exposure, but it may be good for some businesses.

“If you’re a competitor of, say, Golden 1, and you can buy the convention center for 10% of that price (arena price),” Canter said. “You don’t get exposure on TV, but people will often say your name in town. You can reach a larger scale demographics.

Some naming rights, however, come with risk. A company that purchases the naming rights for a light rail station may, for example, suddenly see its name mentioned in the newspapers if a crime is committed there, as recently happened when a sheriff’s deputy was shot at a station in the North Highlands.

Canter said it was a concern. In his hometown, FirstEnergy, a large electric company, paid to have its name on the Cleveland Browns football stadium, even though the stadium is also called “The Factory of Sadness” because the Browns lose so often.

“These are the risks,” Canter said. “It’s part of the game.”

This story was originally published August 7, 2017 4:00 a.m.

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