Good/Bad/Ugly Day For USA Stadium Naming Rights Deals

The NFL’s Cleveland Browns signs its first naming rights deal with FirstEnergy on the same day that MLS’ Sporting Kansas City’s stadium naming contract with Livestrong ends abruptly.


To much local fanfare and described with a great deal of excitement, a ‘special event’ for the media and the fans was held on 15 January to announce that FirstEnergy has purchased the naming rights to the Cleveland Browns Stadium.


In a move that breaks with years of down-to-earth, no-fuss, blue-collar Cleveland Browns tradition, the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Cleveland Browns Stadium becomes the FirstEnergy Stadium in a deal that sees Cleveland become the 23rd of the 31 NFL venues to sign a naming rights deal.


The agreement, which seems more notable for the local North Ohio flavour of the partners rather than the package of rights, sees FirstEnergy (headquartered in nearby Akron, Ohio) become the official energy partner of the Cleveland Browns. FirstEnergy has been a corporate partner of the Browns since 1999.


The company will also gain both interior and exterior stadium signage, use of Browns trademarks, event sponsorships, as well as a full complement of media assets, including TV, radio, print and digital. Another component of the deal sees the future launch of a FirstEnergy Stadium website.


Perhaps the partnership will activate most interestingly and most notably in local philanthropic Ohio endeavours in the future. After all, most stadium naming deals are with national or global brands rather than local companies, so there is some real grass roots community potential for the link up.


‘By joining two Ohio traditions, this partnership and regional branding opportunity makes good business sense,’ said FirstEnergy’s president and CEO Tony Alexander. ‘FirstEnergy and its predecessor utilities have been serving the energy needs of customers throughout northern Ohio for more than a century, while the Browns’ rich legacy in the same regional footprint dates back to 1946. It is clear the team is headed in the right direction and we look forward to being part of the new energy in FirstEnergy Stadium.’


Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner added: ‘Having a stadium naming rights deal in place was extremely important for us as we look towards the future, and it was just as imperative to accomplish this with a strong, regional company such as FirstEnergy. We are excited about what this long-term partnership means, allowing both the Browns and FirstEnergy to derive many benefits from this association. This deal is a great example of why we feel very good about the direction our organisation is headed, and we believe it can serve as a catalyst for many other positive developments moving forward.’


This partnership reflects the changing strategy at the Browns organisation since Jimmy Haslam bought the franchise for $1bn from former owner (and current Aston Villa FC boss) Randy Lerner. Lerner refused to sell the naming rights to the stadium, which opened in 1999.


The Cleveland City Council’s approval is needed to change the name of the city-owned stadium. However, the terms of the lease are that the city council can only reject a name for limited reasons such as one which might be deemed to be embarrassing, or promotes illegal drugs, underage drinking or a sex-oriented business.


Nevertheless, if they were looking for something embarrassing baout the naming tights deal, they need only highlight the fact that while FirstEnergy may now be part of the stadium’s name, the company doesn’t actually provide electricity to the ground which is currently wired up to the city-owned Cleveland Public Power.


“There is some irony there,” said Martin Sweeney, president of Cleveland City Council.




Of course, as with celebrity ambassadors, corporate endorsement deals can be dangerous. During the same 24 hour period Major League Soccer’s Sporting KC announced it was ending its six-year naming rights deal for its home Livestrong Sporting Park stadium after just two years.


In the week Livestrong founder and frontman Lance Armstrong confesses to Oprah Winfrey, a dispute between the anti-cancer charity and the MLS club brought a sudden end to a naming rights deal that had been so positively announced.


While the Livestrong Foundation claims the termination came after Sporting KC had only paid $250,000 of the $1 million that it owed the foundation in 2012, the club itself refutes that it owes any money and says the Livestrong Sporting Park deal has not lived up to expectations since it was signed in March 2011 when Sporting KC said it would donate $7.5m to the foundation in exchange for partnering with one of sport’s most powerful charities.


‘Our faith and trust in this partnership has been permanently damaged; therefore we are terminating our agreement with Livestrong immediately,’ said Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman.


Heineman says Sporting KC has decided to rename the field the team calls home Sporting Park.




Cleveland Browns Press Announcement Video:






Sporting KC






Leave a comment


Featured Showcases

Leave a comment