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Allegheny Power offers to give stadium a name

February 11, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Allegheny Power offers to give stadium a name

In announcing its intention to buy the naming rights to a proposed new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, Allegheny Power joins a growing list of corporations putting their stamp on sports complexes across the country.

The Hagerstown-based utility Wednesday announced an agreement in principle to pay the minor league baseball team $1 million for the rights to name a new baseball stadium Allegheny Energy Field for at least 12 years.

The team also would give the company the right to use its logo in advertising, and provide box seats and two employee nights each year.

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Allegheny officials said the money would come from its marketing budget, which is financed by rate payers. The offer is good until April 15.

"Name recognition. That's exactly what it's about," said James D. Latimer, vice president of corporate affairs. "This is a win-win situation for all."

If the stadium proposal goes through - which is not a sure thing at this point - company officials said naming rights will be important when it changes its name to Allegheny Energy after its expected merger with Duquesne Light Co. in Pittsburgh.

Name recognition becomes even more crucial in the era of competition. Pennsylvania already allows power companies to compete for customers and Maryland could allow competition as early as July 2000.

That would be just in time for the opening of the new Suns stadium between Interstate 81 and Marshall Street in the city's West End.

"We need to get our name out," said Richard J. Gagliardi, Allegheny Power's vice president of administration.

Gagliardi said a new stadium could help spur tourism and economic development. Noting the county's flat population growth, he said more residents translate into more customers.

"This may be another way to attract people to the community. It's a great place to live," he said.

The practice of selling naming rights to professional sports stadiums has grown during the last decade as companies battle for brand identity and sports teams scramble for new revenue sources. Industry analysts said the phenomenon is picking up steam on the minor league level now that the major league market is virtually tapped out.

Three of the 14 teams in the South Atlantic League, to which the Suns belong, already play in stadiums named for companies.

"It's a trend I think is going to continue to grow," said Bill Miller, of the Chicago-based Team Marketing Report association. "Minor leagues and colleges are going to be the next big area. Some high schools have even gotten into the act."

Miller, who was a contributing editor to the book "Naming Rights Deals," said naming rights have been sold to minor league stadiums in Jackson, Tenn., and Memphis in the last month.

While companies may not reap the same financial benefits in the minor leagues that they do with major league teams, Miller said it makes sense as a community outreach effort for regional firms based in the areas they serve.

"It's a status symbol. If you have clients, it's nice to take them to the building," he said. "People do remember the name."

Susan Hofacre, head of Sport Administration at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh, said companies are continually searching for ways to set themselves apart from the pack. Advertisements on television and in newspapers can become lost because of the sheer number, she said. But a stadium bearing a corporate name can reach far beyond the fans who attend games.

"Every time it's in the newspaper, it goes down as 'ABC Park.' Every time it's on the radio station, it goes down that way. There are a lot of media consumers that it's reaching," she said.

Hagerstown is not the only city where Allegheny Power is pursing a name deal. The company is awaiting approval from the Public Auditorium Authority for a $5 million deal to rename the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh the Allegheny Energy Dome. The agreement at the arena, which is home to the National Hockey League's Penguins, would be for six years.

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