Canton Mayor William J. Healy II said the long-discussed concept of selling the naming rights of the Canton Memorial Civic Center could get a serious look this year. In fact, some members of Council want Healy to take the idea a step further.
It’s not always what’s in a name, but the long-term lucrative deal behind it.
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam recently sold the naming rights to the team stadium to FirstEnergy Corp., taking the long-awaited leap that few professional sports franchises have been able to resist.
But it’s not only 73,000-seat arenas that are having corporate names slapped on them these days. As the budgets of local governments and school districts shrink, public officials across the country are selling the most prominent advertising spots for cash in multi-year deals.
City officials say the Canton Memorial Civic Center, 1101 Market Ave. N, has such potential.
Canton Mayor William J. Healy II said the long-discussed concept could get a serious look this year. In fact, some members of Canton City Council want Healy to take the idea a step further.
“I’m absolutely for it,” Healy said, “and not just for the Civic Center, but when you look at our parks and a number of facilities we have, we need to be more aggressive.”
Healy said the Civic Center’s partnership with the Canton Charge, the Cleveland Cavalier’s NBA Developmental League team, has prompted more serious discussions about the idea. He said no companies have ever made an offer.
Last August, Canton City Councilmen John Mariol, D-7, and Edmond Mack, D-8, wrote Healy about the city’s financial condition. At the time, the city was projecting an operating deficit that, if not addressed, would result in layoffs of police officers and firefighters this year.
Mariol and Mack proposed “alternative advertising options,” including the sale of naming rights. Mariol points to large cities like Chicago and Dallas that have sold advertising space on public property and right-of-way.
“This is an avenue of revenue that has, to date, been overlooked by our city,” Mariol and Mack’s letter to Healy said.
Marion said selling the naming rights to the Civic Center would be a “fantastic starting point.”
“It’s a change, but were not asking anything of anybody,” he said. “We’re not increasing a fine or fee. It’s a painless way of generating revenue.”
Canton Law Director Joseph Martuccio said previous mayors have tinkered with the idea but none have requested a formal legal opinion. The Civic Center sits on county-owned land that the city leases, he said.
Kent State University Stark campus faced a predicament when its former field house went unused. From the 1950s through the 1970s it housed campus sports and intramurals. But when the satellite campus moved away from sports, it was left with a large vacant building.
Former dean William G. Bittle wanted to transform the building into a corporate meeting facility.
Page 2 of 2 - “It was part of his vision to have companies in the area buy into it as kind of backing to get the community’s support for the center,” said Cynthia Williams, spokeswoman for Kent State Stark.
The university sold naming rights to conference rooms and meeting spaces to large local corporations, like Timken, Diebold and the former Hoover Co. The University Center, formerly known as the Professional Education and Conference Center, opened 2000.
Williams said funding from selling naming rights helped the project take shape. She said the corporations now have a connection to the school that extends beyond the scholarships it sponsors.
“It’s a way to get their name in front of people and have that recognizability here,” she said. “People from all over are seeing these names that are influential in the community.”
WHEN NAMING RIGHTS GO WRONG
Healy recalls the naming-rights flub the city of Philadelphia went through when he lived near the city as a student at Rowan University. The naming rights to the arena designed as “Spectrum II” in 1996 were sold to CoreStates Bank for $40 million over 21 years. Because of a series of bank takeovers, the arena was renamed in 1998 to the First Union Center, which Healy remembers fans calling the “F.U. Center.” The name changed again in 2003 to the Wachovia Center. Its current name, Wells Fargo Center, was adopted in 2010.
And there was the Houston Astros’ public relations nightmare when in 2001, a year after dubbing its new baseball park Enron Field, the energy company was busted in one of the largest corporate scandals in American history. The Coca-Cola Co. now owns the naming rights to the stadium, now known as Minute Maid Park.
Stadium names aren’t the only things up for sale. In 2011, comedian Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” offered to pay for the cost of South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary if the party agreed to call it “The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary.”
“The formal title won’t matter,” Healy said, “but what matters is that the facilities can sustain themselves. When I started as mayor, the Civic Center was losing $1 million a year. Now it’s losing about $300,000. If we can generate sponsorships and help us close that gap and break even, then that would be fabulous.”
Healy said the city would obviously need to be smart if and when it sells the Civic Center’s naming rights.
“We don’t want to call it the Crown Royal Stadium,” he said.