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How Edison Got Its Name Up in Lights

Marketing: Deep pockets helped it make Anaheim stadium deal with Disney.

September 16, 1997|E. SCOTT RECKARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It started about a year ago. Walt Disney Co. had just bought the California Angels from Gene Autry. Now Disney needed a major corporate sponsor to offset its $80- million share in restoring Anaheim's Big A stadium.

The deal, including renaming rights to the stadium, was going to cost the successful bidder millions of dollars--far too pricey for most of the two dozen or so prospects on the company's early list.

"We talked about it last March, but it was clearly way beyond anything we could afford," an executive of one of the companies approached said.

But as it has done in expanding its theme parks over the years, Disney found a perfect partner, with needs matching its demands. Edison International, whose alliance with Disney and Anaheim was officially announced Monday, made the final cut through a combination of deep pockets and a desire to put its name in front of millions of sports fans.

"Edison is actually more historic than Disney. It really appealed to me," Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner said after the official, confetti-strewn announcement that the stadium would become Edison International Field of Anaheim--Edison Field for short.

Bob Wagner, marketing director for Disney's Anaheim Sports subsidiary, said the field of sponsors had been winnowed to about a dozen candidates by six months ago, when serious talks began.

After negotiations began in earnest, "There was really no one else seriously in the running," said Thomas Higgins, Edison's top spokesman.

Sources said the agreement calls for Edison to pay Disney about $1.4 million a year for 20 years in exchange for its name on the stadium.

Disney and Edison executives wouldn't confirm the $1.4-million figure publicly Monday. But that number would put the deal squarely in the middle of recent stadium-naming agreements, said Dennis Howard, a marketing professor at the University of Oregon's graduate business school who has studied stadium economics extensively.

At one end are venues like Jacobs Field in Cleveland, named for team owner Richard Jacobs, where 20-year rights went for $13.9 million.

At the other end is the new Pac Bell Park for the San Francisco Giants. Pacific Telesis Corp., aiming to wire up the stadium with electronic food ordering from seats and other gizmos, paid $50 million for 24 years of naming rights, Howard said.

Edison International, whose subsidiary Southern California Edison is the nation's second-largest utility in numbers of customers, will now have a huge marketing edge in its core market.

That edge is much needed now, as California opens electricity sales and service to competition next year and electric companies are expected to bombard consumers with pitches the way phone companies do now.

John Bryson, Edison's chairman, said Edison International's shareholders, not Southern California Edison ratepayers, will pay for the Disney deal. "It's an investment for us," he said.

Selling sponsorships is old hat to Disney, whose flagship Disneyland theme park just up the freeway in Anaheim could not have opened in 1955 without financial help from ABC.

Edison will get its name and logo on the main stadium sign, prominent display throughout the park, and use of a luxury suite near home plate.

It will also be granted use of the stadium to promote its far-flung deregulated ventures from energy conservation and management services for business to security services to Internet access for homes.

Times staff writer Esther Schrader in Orange County contributed to this report.

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