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Naming rights could turn Dodger diamond into gold

The stadium won't get a new moniker, but the bullpens might

October 14, 2008|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

Welcome to Dodger Stadium! Come see the pitchers warm up in the Red Bull Bullpen. Sit in the Bicycle Playing Cards top deck! Leave your car in the Hertz garage for preferred parking, or the Avis lot, where they try harder to find you a spot.

Dodger Stadium will still be called Dodger Stadium in the years ahead, but much of the rest of the place is now available to be renamed -- for a price -- by corporate sponsors willing to add their brands to familiar features of Chavez Ravine.

Available canvases include the bullpens, dugouts, base lines, outfield pavilions, parking gates, press box, Stadium Club, luxury suites and clubhouse. The team's newly adopted spring training facilities in Arizona are also up for grabs.

The Dodgers said Monday that they had formed a partnership with the William Morris Agency of Beverly Hills to identify opportunities to rename parts of the stadium and its planned $500-million addition. The expansion is intended to transform the ballpark into a year-round destination for dining, shopping and recreation -- and could also serve up numerous branding opportunities.

Like many other sports and entertainment businesses, the Dodgers are turning to advertisers to help defray their costs.

"Everybody is seeking corporate relationships," said Jim Wiatt, chairman of William Morris. "It's expensive to keep competitive and have the best facilities."

No sponsors have yet been named, but they will be courted -- and vigorously, no doubt.

It was not immediately clear how much the naming rights to various parts of the stadium and grounds might be worth -- or whether the team's success or failure in the current National League playoffs would be a factor.

The Dodgers trail the Philadelphia Phillies three games to one in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series after a 7-5 loss in Game 4 Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

With player salaries soaring and all the obvious sources of revenue already being tapped, sports franchises are scrambling to squeeze revenue from their ballparks, stadiums and arenas -- even from such iconic destinations as Dodger Stadium and the new Yankee Stadium that will open next spring in New York.

That push will continue, sports marketers say, even during the current economic turmoil.

A year ago, for example, the Yankees signed a deal with Creative Artists Agency to figure out a way to structure what some wags subsequently called a "non-naming-rights-naming-rights deal" for the new stadium. Club executives made it clear that they didn't want to alienate fans by placing a corporation's name alongside the Yankee name.

"There will not be someone attaching their name to Yankee Stadium," CAA executive Howie Nuchow said at the time. "The Yankees will, as they always have, keep the integrity of their stadium."

But that doesn't mean team owners can't find other ways to affiliate their venues with corporate sponsors. Increasingly, dining areas, corridors, party rooms and other spaces inside sports facilities are adding corporate signage.

It's not just about the game anymore, either. Jerry Jones, owner of the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys, is spending $1.2 billion, some of it public funds, on a new stadium for his team. He envisions it as an attraction whether there's a game underway or not.

That's akin to what Dodgers owner Frank McCourt envisions -- a Chavez Ravine that will draw consumers with time and money to spend, even when there's no baseball being played.

The addition unveiled in April and set to begin construction in about a year would create a Dodgers museum, parking structures and a landscaped plaza behind center field connecting to shops and restaurants. The 46-year-old stadium, which would not be altered, is to be surrounded by a "green necklace" of new landscape elements including 2,000 trees.

As for the branding, William Morris has promised that the company names will be tasteful: Don't look for the Dodgers' exclusive Stadium Club to be renamed for a racy "gentlemen's club."

"The Dodgers are a highly professional organization," said Wiatt of William Morris. "We want to keep the class and integrity of this franchise."

Longtime fans who can remember when the blue outfield walls were blank and there was barely a whiff of commercialism in the stadium may find the addition of more brand names a bit grating, but they shouldn't be surprised. Dodger Stadium is already flush with advertising, and other venues have gone further by including a corporate sponsor in their names -- think US Cellular Field or Petco Park.

So-called naming rights were rare in the late 1980s but are as common these days as $15-million salaries for baseball players. Now arena owners are successfully identifying new spaces to sell, such as the Nokia Theatre and a Wachovia-sponsored courtyard next to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The Dodgers' chief operating officer, Dennis Mannion, has high aspirations for the expanded naming rights. He hopes to bring in brands that will resonate with different demographic groups in a way that will "create a feeling of inside access for our fans."

For example, a bullpen sponsor might hold a contest in which the prize would be a pregame party in the restricted space on the field where pitchers warm up.

"Naming is part of our society, not just here but all over the world," Wiatt said. "There are real opportunities to do this with the Dodgers that will enhance the franchise."

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roger.vincent@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Greg Johnson contributed to this report.

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