What does stadium naming deal mean for St. Louisans' dreams of keeping Rams?
Dave Peacock concedes that he undersold a bit to Enterprise Holdings when he talked with some of their top brass about sponsoring a roughly $1 billion stadium.
The co-chairman of a task force angling to keep professional football in St. Louis said on Wednesday he went in with a “lower sponsorship level” to Enterprise, a St. Louis-based corporation that owns a number of car rental companies. What Peacock got in return was a 20-year, $158 million offer to name the stadium “National Car Rental Field.”
“So after I got off of the floor and picked up the phone I dropped, we commenced quickly going and working together to help with some of our advisers to ensure that we had a fair deal that would work for a team and for our city and for their company,” Peacock said at a press conference announcing the naming rights agreement near Downtown St. Louis.
The naming deal is the latest twist in the very, very, very winding saga to keep the St. Louis Rams from bolting to Los Angeles. With a combination of state, local and private dollars, stadium backers hope the stadium will revitalize the city’s north riverfront and keep a professional football team here.
“The big part of the reason we’re here today is because we love St. Louis,” said Enterprise Holdings President and CEO Pamela Nicholson. “And want to see our city keep moving forward as a great place to live and work. We want to help attract new talent to our company and to other businesses throughout the region. We want to help give families across the country and around the world have more reasons to come to our hometown and decide to make it their hometown.”
The sponsorship deal will pay out an average of $7.9 million a year for the new stadium. Asked if it could potentially be used to defray the state and local cost of the project, Peacock said: “That’s going to be dependent on negotiations.”
“I would say that the proceeds would be going to the project,” Peacock said. “The question is how they go to the project. There are going to be certain obligations of the club under lease that need to be met. And these proceeds may help support that. The proceeds may go to the stadium authority.
“We’re not sure yet. We need to get into negotiations,” he added. “But they will certainly be supportive of the project.”
Brett Boyle is a marketing professor at Saint Louis University. He said that the deal will likely be a net positive for the chances of an NFL team staying in St. Louis. He added: “When you have corporate sponsorship backing, that just calms a lot of nerves in the NFL front office.”
“It’s good news for folks who want to see the Rams stay,” Boyle said. “And yet, I don’t know if it’s going to be the make or break issue that is going to keep Stan Kroenke from moving necessarily.”
Can Kroenke be swayed?
Indeed, while Peacock and Enterprise officials were bullish about the naming rights deal, it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to keep Kroenke, the St. Louis Rams’ owner, from heading west.
While saying very little to the media about his intentions, Kroenke unveiled a roughly $2 billion stadium project in Inglewood, California. And he’s proposed to pay for the facility largely with private dollars which makes it an open question whether a naming rights deal here will change his calculus that much.
And when Peacock was asked if Kroenke could get $10 million, $15 million or $20 million a year for a stadium in Los Angeles, he replied: “I would expect L.A. to deliver that kind of number.”
“These naming rights are based on the size of the market,” Peacock said. “And so, we — separate from Enterprise but I know they did their similar homework — looked at the last five or six stadiums constructed. And there’s a stair step based on market size. And ours tucks in right below Minnesota, which is about $8.8 million a year. But they’re the 14th largest media market. We’re the 18th.”
“Yeah, it’s going to be a larger naming,” he added. “But we’re not Los Angeles. If we start comparing ourselves to Los Angeles, I think it’d be a mistake.”
At least one publication reported that the naming rights deal wasn’t being met positively at the NFL’s owners meeting. The Los Angeles Times reported that “some in the NFL” were “puzzled” that the deal “was announced while league owners were meeting and didn't view the $7.9-million per year accord as particularly lucrative.”
And Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones quipped that $158 million "would buy a lobby" in an L.A. stadium.
Asked about those sentiments, Peacock said “we were very clear with the league in July when we met with league representatives that we were going to go solicit corporate support because we were told there was a concern about corporate support.”
“The only way we can address that is talking to companies and saying ‘are you interested in sponsoring?’” Peacock said. “What we did not expect was for a company to step up in a way that Enterprise did and say ‘we’re interested in naming that. I don’t think it would have been wise for us to say no.”
In any case, Kroenke will need 24 votes from the NFL’s 32 owners in order to move. And while Peacock said he hasn’t polled owners recently, some sports publications reported that Kroenke could be effectively blocked by colleagues who’d rather see the Oakland Raiders or the San Diego Chargers move to Los Angeles. (And it’s not out of the question that Kroenke could gather enough supporters to block those moves, creating a mega-stalemate.)
“This is probably not going to change Stan Kroenke's mind,” Boyle said. “He already had a sponsorship deal with Edward Jones at the Dome. And so for him, the bigger game is out West. But he still needs votes from other owners to okay any kind of move. And I do know there are some owners that prefer the Rams stay in St. Louis. And things like a well-known national brand like Enterprise to attach itself to this naming deal would only solidify those votes – if not bring in some more.
“So it might make it harder for him to move, rather than actually entice him to stay,” he added.