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Arrowhead Close to Arena Sponsor Deal : Venue: The water company's moniker would be displayed on Anaheim facility and would be part of building's name. Disney officials are also talking to Simple Green as a potential backer.

September 23, 1993|MATT LAIT and MIKE DIGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — The Walt Disney Co. is close to a deal that would make Arrowhead Water Corp. the sponsor of the $121-million Anaheim Arena, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The facility would be named the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, resolving an embarrassing seven-month dispute among Disney, the city and the arena managers about what to call the indoor sports complex.

Details of corporate sponsorship are still being worked out, but Arrowhead is expected to pay between $1 million and $1.5 million a year for the right to have its company name displayed on the arena, sources said. The length of the contract could not be learned.

Disney and arena officials refused Wednesday to discuss details of the negotiations.

"I don't think we've announced anything yet, so it would be premature of me to say, but you're on the right track," said Michael D. Eisner, chairman of the Walt Disney Co.

Dave Morgan, Anaheim assistant city manager, declined to identify the company negotiating with Disney officials but acknowledged that "they're getting close to wrapping it up."

There also was no comment from a spokesman for Perrier Group of America, the unit of the giant Swiss food company Nestle SA that owns Arrowhead.

Although Disney officials hope to finalize the agreement with Arrowhead before the Mighty Ducks' National Hockey League home debut in October, they are also talking to another potential sponsor in case the deal with Arrowhead falls through, one source said, identifying that firm as the Huntington Beach manufacturer of Simple Green, a biodegradable cleaner.

Simple Green officials confirmed they are talking with Disney about advertising in the arena but declined to say if they are interested in sponsoring the building.

Finding a corporate sponsor for the arena has been a top priority for Disney since March, when Eisner surprised city and arena officials by announcing that he was renaming the arena "The Pond at Anaheim." City and arena officials bristled at the name, expressing concern that it would make it difficult to attract a sponsor for the arena.

Ever since Eisner's announcement, Disney has called the facility the Pond while the city and arena managers--Ogden Corp.--call it the Anaheim Arena.

Under an agreement signed in February by Disney, the city and Ogden, Disney has the right to name the facility, but Ogden must agree to it. During the first 10 years of the arena's operation, the agreement provides for Disney and Odgen to split the first $1 million in revenue from a corporate sponsor. Revenue exceeding $1 million goes to Disney.

John Nicoletti, marketing manager for the arena, said Wednesday that if Disney signs a deal with Arrowhead or another company, it "would add a lot of credibility to the building."

It would also "set to rest the issue over what to call the arena and it would prove what we knew all along--that this building is a valuable marketing tool," he said.

The practice of selling corporation names to entertainment facilities has been increasingly popular in recent years. Marketing experts say it is a cost-effective way of getting a company in the public eye.

"When you count all the mentions on radio, TV and in the papers, it's almost sure to add up to less than it would cost to buy that many ads," said Jim Andrews of EIG Sponsorship Report, a trade magazine.

Many professional basketball and hockey teams throughout the nation play in buildings named after airlines, oil companies and banks, such as the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. And, for a place that Eisner is determined to call the Pond, a drinking water company seems like a natural sponsor.

Arrowhead--which celebrates its 100th year next year--is the nation's largest seller of bottled water, with 8% of the nearly $3 billion U.S. market last year. Most of the water comes from springs in the nearby San Bernardino Mountains near Lake Arrowhead.

Most of the company's $225 million in wholesale sales come from the big five-gallon jugs delivered to home and office water coolers.

Lately, though, Arrowhead water hasn't been selling as fast as it once did: Although the company's market is California and Arizona, the bedrock of its business is in Southern California--and the region is reeling from an economic downturn. Sales for the bottled-water industry nationwide grew 4% last year, but Arrowhead sales rose only 2%.

Marketing experts said it makes sense that Arrowhead would be anxious to get more visibility and jump-start its sales, perhaps by putting its name atop a sports arena. Last year, for instance, Arrowhead started its first extensive television ad campaign.

This year, Arrowhead has beefed up its advertising budget and increased its exposure.

The Huntington Beach-based maker of Simple Green biodegradable all-purpose cleaner could also use more visibility. With sales in the $40-million-a-year range, Sunshine Makers Inc. isn't big enough to compete with larger companies' national advertising budgets as it promotes its 20-year-old cleaner against competitors like Formula 409.

Sunshine Makers officials said Disney approached them with several different options for being a corporate sponsor at Anaheim Arena.

Given Simple Green's relatively small size, it seems likely it would opt for less expensive advertising alternatives than putting its name on the arena, sports marketing experts said. Among those options would be advertising on the ice, scoreboards or some other place inside the building.

Times staff writers Robyn Norwood and Michael Flagg contributed to this story.

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