looks to make mark
Colorado Rapids stadium could be next naming deal
By Beth Potter, Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005
Qwest Communications is in the running to emblazon its name
on the $50 million Colorado Rapids stadium being built in
"It's safe to say that we have had some discussions," said
David Ehrlich, executive vice president at The Bonham Group,
a Denver sports marketing company handling the naming rights
deal on behalf of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which is
building the stadium. "Do they match up well? They seem
If it "makes sense, and it's a very high bar," Qwest would
consider the stadium naming deal, said chief executive
Richard Notebaert. He would not confirm talks with The
Bonham Group about the Rapids. "There's nothing to be
gained by speculation."
Since Notebaert took over Qwest in 2002, the former Baby
Bell has done three major naming rights deals in its
14-state region -- even as it pulled out of a financial
tailspin caused by accounting fraud that predated Notebaert
and led to a $2.5 billion restatement of revenues in 2003.
But Qwest has not yet done a big naming rights deal in
Denver, its hometown.
Notebaert didn't say why. But he said that when Qwest
considers any such deals, it's part of a strategy that makes
financial sense and serves the community.
"We don't do sponsorships, because that's like a billboard,"
Qwest so far has pledged:
- an estimated $14 million for a 15-year deal naming the
Qwest Center in Omaha in September 2003, home to college and
minor-league sports teams.
- an estimated $60 million over 15 years in June 2004 to
name the Seattle Sea hawks' home Qwest Field for 15 years.
- an estimated $4 million in October for a 15-year deal to
change the name of the former Bank of America Centre to
Qwest Arena in Boise, Idaho, where minor-league hockey and
basketball are played.
Qwest declined to discuss the details of the deals for
competitive reasons, said Rich Karlis, director of Qwest
community relations since 2002 -- and a former Broncos place
Qwest makes its sports
plays elsewhere in region
Sports marketing analysts said the deals provide branding
opportunities in competitive markets and can provide a
healthy return on investment.
"If it's producing $2 million per year, and they're paying
$4 million over 15 years (in Idaho), for example, that's a
very good investment in that market," said Cindy Shevrovich,
senior executive vice president at Joyce Julius Sport
Marketing and Evaluation in Ann Arbor, Mich.
She said $2 million per year is a good estimate, given the
marketing returns on sports venues across the country.
That's calculated by the number of times the company's name
is mentioned in print, radio and TV and comparable costs for
buying advertising in those media, she said.
On average, an NFL stadium sponsor -- such as Qwest in
Seattle -- gets a $12 million per year return on investment,
based on print, radio and TV coverage of games, people at
the stadium seeing the sponsor's signs, and promotions and
advertising, including billboards and Internet media, said
In addition, Qwest gets up to $2 million per year in direct
revenue for providing telephone services to the Seahawks and
related businesses, said Steve Sander, president of Pure
Brand Sports and Entertainment in Denver, who followed the
negotiations but was not involved.
Qwest's direct sales to the Seahawks -- making money by
providing phone and Internet services -- are unique, Sander
"The name awareness among consumers is valuable, but I think
Qwest is very smart and strategic because it uses the naming
rights to create business development opportunities for the
company," Sander said.
In Omaha, the Qwest Center promotes Qwest's brand name in a
market where it is under heavy assault from Cox Cable.
The 17,000-seat center is home to sports teams as well as
major music acts such as U2, Dave Matthews and the Rolling
Stones. It ranks No. 8 in ticket sales for venues its size
in the world in a recent survey, just behind Madison Square
Dana Dyksterhuis, the center's public relations manager. By
comparison, Denver's Pepsi Center ranked 31st in the same
survey, Dyksterhuis said.
Why hasn't Qwest done a deal in Denver?
Qwest wasn't interested in bidding for Denver's last big
sports venue naming contest in 2001 -- what became Invesco
Field at Mile High -- because of focus and finances, said
Matt Yonan, president of Tigris Sponsorship and Marketing in
Invesco pledged to pay $120 million over 20 years. There is
some speculation that Invesco's parent company -- Amvescap
-- may seek to rebrand the stadium. It has given no
indication that it wants to end its contract, according to
Ray Baker, chairman of the Denver Metro Stadium District.
Baker said Qwest has never approached him.
Qwest predecessor US West passed up a chance in the
mid-1990s to name what became the Pepsi Center, the facility
now owned by Kroenke Sports, which also owns the Denver
Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche pro teams that play there.
Pepsi reportedly paid $35 million over 20 years.
US West, which was bought by Qwest in 2000, did buy naming
rights to Colorado's Ocean Journey. The aquarium went
bankrupt, was bought by Landry Restaurants Inc. and is known
simply as the Downtown Aquarium.
Asked recently why Qwest had never done a big naming rights
deal in Denver, Notebaert quickly shot back, "Do you know of
There are several, including minor-league baseball
facilities proposed in Aurora and Arvada; and the
5,000-seat auditorium in the Colorado Convention Center.
Across the country, Fortune 500 corporations have sought to
promote themselves in their hometowns -- and elsewhere -- by
naming pro systems.
Houston-based Reliant Resources paid $300 million for 32
years to name Reliant Stadium in Houston, while Dallas-based
American Airlines paid $195 million to name the American
Airlines Center in Dallas.
FedEx Corp., which is based in Memphis, agreed to pay $90
million over 20 years to name the Fed Ex Forum, where the
NBA's Grizzlies play.
FedEx also struck a $205 million, 27-year deal to name Fed
Ex Field in Landover, Md., where the Washington Redskins
When asked about Qwest's strategy in naming rights deals,
Qwest spokesman Chris Hardman said, "We keep an open mind,
and if an opportunity meets all of our criteria, we will
consider moving forward."
As for the Rapids, The Bonham Group and Kroenke Sports
declined to say what other companies are in the running.
Kroenke is reportedly seeking a 20-year naming rights deal.
Earlier this year, Pizza Hut agreed to pay $25 million over
20 years to name Pizza Hut Park, a pro soccer stadium in
While Denver remains a question mark, Qwest continues to do
sports branding deals elsewhere in the region.
Qwest last month said it will sponsor the Minnesota
Timberwolves for an undisclosed sum in return for TV and
radio ads and courtside signage at the Target Center in
Staff writer Beth Potter
can be reached at 303-820-1503 or