Charlotte Bobcats Score Top Agency To Help Sell Naming Rights

CHARLOTTE (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — According to the Charlotte Business Journal a year after the Charlotte Bobcats began trying to sell naming rights for the team's $265 million arena, the franchise is overhauling its approach and enlisting a new consultant to manage the process.

This week, the team hired Bethesda, Md.-based Team Services to handle all aspects of the naming-rights search. Last fall, when the Bobcats began seeking a corporate name, the sales campaign was led by the team, with consulting help from Charlotte-based Muhleman Marketing Inc./IMG.

Now Team Services will be the sole naming-rights consultant, with the Bobcats focusing on team and arena operations.

Team Services and the Bobcats hope to have a corporate name on the arena by the start of next season, but both organizations say no firm timetable exists. Instead, they will focus on finding the right deal no matter how long it takes to complete.

"As things have accelerated for our organization with the new arena opening, we decided it would be in our best interests if we stepped back and let someone else take the lead in naming rights," says Ed Tapscott, Bobcats president and chief operating officer. "We got the best and brightest to lead the charge."

Neither Tapscott nor Team Services executives will disclose what price the Bobcats are seeking for naming rights. Industry experts peg the value at $2 million to $3.5 million annually.

Team Services principals E.J. Narcise and Fred Fried will manage the Bobcats' naming rights, returning to an area familiar to both.

They negotiated the Carolina Panthers' original stadium-name deal, securing a 10-year, $20 million agreement with L.M. Ericsson Inc. in 1996.

That deal has since ended and been replaced with a 20-year, $140 million agreement with Bank of America Corp., negotiated by Muhleman Marketing Inc./IMG.

The Bobcats "put naming rights on the back burner while they were finishing their Taj Mahal of a new arena," Narcise says. "And now, with everything else they're focused on, they needed someone like us to come in and concentrate 24/7 on finding a deal. That's what we plan to do."

Narcise's firm has an impressive track record. Past deals include the record 30-year, $300 million naming agreement between the NFL's Houston Texans and Reliant Corp. as well as a 15-year, $75 million pact between the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and M&T Bank.

Team Services lobbied hard for the Bobcats' job. Narcise toured the arena site in July — three months before the building opened — and had conversations with Bobcats Chief Financial Officer Peter Smul for several months prior to that.

Beyond working with the Panthers, Team Services has connections to the region's college teams. In January 2005, Learfield Communications Inc. became a business partner of Team Services. Learfield's clients include UNC Chapel Hill, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina.

Even as Muhleman Marketing moves away from naming rights with the Bobcats, the agency will still be involved with the NBA franchise in a number of areas.

"It is an enduring relationship," Tapscott says. Company principal Max Muhleman "is aware of this, and he supports us. He has been a critical consultant for us on a number of issues — ticket plans, food services, market analysis — and we will continue working with his firm for a very long time."

For Team Services, the naming-rights quest has just begun. Narcise says many prospects already targeted by the Bobcats will be contacted again. He plans on surveying national, regional and local companies at the same time.

While some industry experts say sports venues lose appeal, and value, once they have opened — reducing the ceremonial media attention around groundbreaking and grand-opening events — Narcise professes confidence in the attraction of the Bobcats and the Charlotte market.

"It's not as if the clock is running," Narcise says. "The Bobcats are focused on building their brand, and we want to take the pressure off them. They can concentrate on that, and we'll be able to focus 24/7 on naming rights. That's what we do best."

It seems unlikely the area's biggest corporations will put their names on the arena. BofA has its stadium deal with the Panthers, and Wachovia Corp. owns naming rights for a sports complex in Philadelphia housing NHL and NBA clubs. Lowe's Cos. Inc. signed a 10-year, $35 million deal to put its name on the NASCAR track in Concord in 1999.

And Duke Energy Corp. has shied away from glitzy marketing deals in recent years while focusing on an overhaul of the company. A company spokesman recently told the Charlotte Business Journal he was unaware of any discussions between the Bobcats and Duke Energy over potential naming rights.

"These deals are unique — they're snowflakes," Narcise says. "You have to find the right partner, and you've got to be the right partner. It's not like you just slap a name on a building. It's much more than that."

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