Economic downturn hinders search for new sponsorship deals at Ford Center

STEVE LACKMEYER Modified: July 19, 2009 at 8:04 am •  Published: July 19, 2009
When the Thunder arrived at Ford Center, the team’s owners were free to start the clock on taking bids for naming rights for the arena.

A year later, however, that clock has yet to tick and the only naming rights dollars are those being paid to Oklahoma City by the Oklahoma Ford Dealers under an agreement struck in 2001.

Officials with the Thunder declined to comment and repeated calls to representatives of the Oklahoma Ford Dealers went unanswered.

Gary Desjardins, general manager at Ford Center, and Tom Anderson, special projects manager for Oklahoma City, both confirm the Thunder has yet to trigger terms for renegotiating the naming rights deal with the Oklahoma Ford Dealers.

The team’s owners also could have opened negotiations with new bidders for a deal that would guarantee the current pay-out ($409,000 a year) to the city with anything above that amount going back to the Thunder. To date, city officials say the team has not taken any action.

Miami, Fla., sports consultant Rick Horrow, who played a critical role as a promoter with the original MAPS program, isn’t surprised by the lack of news regarding a naming rights deal for Ford Center.

The market, he says, has stalled.

"I can’t really put my hands on any large deals,” Horrow said. "It’s not fair to say the market has dried up. But some of the bigger searches are being postponed.”

The problem, Horrow said, is obvious: the 2008 economic crash.

"We have the same issue at the new Orlando (Fla.) arena, same for the Cowboys, Yankees, Giants and Jets. But once the economy shows strong signs of stability, I think these deals will become more beneficial and prudent than ever.”

Horrow can only name one deal in recent months: the Miami Dolphins’ decision to christen its new home "Landshark Stadium” for one year.

The beer label’s founder, Jimmy Buffett, agreed to perform two concerts at the stadium in exchange for the naming rights, with all performance proceeds going back to the team.

High hopes
Just a couple of years ago, Oklahoma City leaders had plenty of cause to believe a big money deal could be cinched for an NBA team making Ford Center its permanent home.

A study presented by ICON Venue Group LLC for the Thunder owners before the team’s move from Seattle projected naming rights for the Oklahoma City arena would be worth $2 million to the owners the first year, $3 million the second year, $3.5 million the third year and increase 3 percent a year for the remainder of the deal.

The estimates were based on assumed attendance of 14,569 for the 2008-2009 season and 14,269 the following year. The Thunder’s average attendance its first year (2008-2009) was 18,594.

In other cities similar NBA relocations have translated into naming rights deals worth millions of dollars.

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