Citigroup's New York Stadium Deal Hits New High

Stunned is how most marketing executives reacted to Citigroup's announcement yesterday that it had bought naming rights to the New York Mets' new stadium slated to open in 2007 for what seems, at first glance, a staggering sum.

Estimates--unconfirmed by the New York-based financial services giant--are that Citigroup paid $20 million a year for the next 20 years, with an option to renew for an additional 15 years. If correct, this would make it the highest amount paid to date for naming rights to any sports venue.

Whether Citigroup paid too much can only be gleaned by reading the fine print in the contract.

"The trick is to look at the details of the deal," said Jim Grinstead, publisher of Revenue from Sports Venues in Nashville, Tenn. Typical sports stadium-naming deals include a litany of items from signage to luxury suites. In Citigroup's case, the deal was enriched by the opportunity to lock up exclusive marketing rights in product categories where it does business--including banking, credit cards, and brokerage services.



If Citigroup negotiated to handle financing for the stadium or to provide financial services to Mets' management and players and their families, notes Don Hinchey of The Bonham Group, the amount would look like a grand slam for the banker.

"You need to take into consideration that New York is the financial capital of the world, and the external exposure a deal like this gives Citigroup" won't be easily surpassed, Hinchey said. "The power, economic clout and exposure to the New York marketplace is really unrivaled."

New York fans were less enthusiastic about the news. At least one morning newsradio interview subject characterized the name "Citi Field" as one marrying the first letters of existing stadium "Shea" with the final letters of "Citi".

Grinstead, meanwhile, is of the mind that "Christmas came early" to the New York Jets and Giants NFL teams, which have agreed to build a joint stadium adjacent to the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey. The teams have yet to announce what the name of the combined stadium might be. It is scheduled for completion by the start of the 2009 football season.

"The Giants and the Jets should just send the Mets a huge bouquet of flowers or something for what it did to the price for the naming rights to that stadium," Grinstead said.

"The Citigroup/Mets deal absolutely sets the bar higher in sports naming rights, but also underscores how substantial a sports marketing deal like this can be," agreed Hinchey.

For its part, Citigroup said it would have both brand and business unit presence throughout the new ballpark--including signage on walls, scoreboards, video programming and ATMs; integration into Mets television, print, radio and online media campaigns including and; Mets publications and publicity materials; and new outdoor marquees at Citi Field.

The Mets and Citigroup will also jointly develop marketing, advertising, and promotional programs and platforms "to maximize the impact of the partnership to benefit fans, Citigroup clients and employees through special offers on tickets, merchandise, and unique experiences at Citi Field," according to a Citigroup press release.

A new Citi Field logo is yet to be revealed.

Last week to underscore its new retail presence in Boston, Citigroup paid to rename the Boston-based Wang Center for the Performing Arts to the Citi Center for the Performing Arts. Industry speculation was that Citigroup will pay the nonprofit arts center $34 million over the next 15 years for the 20-year naming rights deal.

In national naming contests, the Citigroup/Mets deal surpasses other seemingly big-ticket deals, including the $300 million paid by Reliant Energy for Houston Stadium naming rights for the next 30 years, or the $205 million paid to the Washington Redskins by Federal Express for the rights to FedEx Field for 27 years.

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