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Material on this page was published when Seahawks Stadium, now called Qwest Field, opened in 2002.
Friday, August 2, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Construction & design
By Percy Allen
It's a simple name, unburdened with corporate sponsorship, but that wasn't by design. The folks at First & Goal Inc. have spent the past four years mulling bids from companies who wanted to put their names on the stadium.
A few months ago, team president Bob Whitsitt said they had narrowed the list to five or so prospects. Three weeks later, they announced that for the inaugural season the new stadium would wear the team's name.
Blame it on the demise of Enron. The fallout from that company's failed naming-rights agreement with the Houston Astros has made the Seahawks cautious. They want a long-term relationship.
"We've been looking for someone to put their name on the stadium that will (fit) the community and the kind of image that we would like to have associated with the team," owner Paul Allen said recently. "We're still in that process. We hope to find someone in the next few years in this challenging economy."
Since his investment in the Seahawks has already cost him more than a quarter of a billion dollars, Allen doesn't seem to mind laying down a few million a year while the team searches for just the right fit.
Any money Allen would receive from selling the naming rights would cover maintenance of the stadium, but the Seahawks owner says this decision won't be solely motivated by money.
Still, it's difficult to ignore the millions of dollars at stake.
The Houston Texans will open their new stadium this season with, appropriately for Texas, the largest naming-rights deal in professional sports. Reliant Energy will pay $324 million over 32 years for the privilege of calling it Reliant Stadium.
But in the past year, three major companies with stadiums bearing their names have filed for bankruptcy.
Enron was the first, followed by PSINet, a financially strapped Internet company that terminated its 20-year, $105 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Adelphia Communications had to pull out of a 15-year, $30 million deal for naming rights to the Tennessee Titans' coliseum.
The Astros paid $2.1 million to end their 30-year, $100 million contract with Enron, then promptly found another sponsor when Minute Maid paid $170 million for 28 years to put its name on the ballpark.
"You want to make sure it's a company that five or 10 years from now, they are still in business and they are still your corporate sponsor," Whitsitt said. "Because when you name it, you don't want to have to go back and name it a second time."
In Seattle, the city's two other major sports venues found local companies interested in long-term commitments.
Safeco is paying $40 million for its 20-year contract that runs to 2019 and allows the insurance company with roots to Seattle to put its name on the ballpark.
And KeyBank entered a $15 million, 15-year agreement for the naming rights to KeyArena, the former Seattle Center Coliseum. It runs to 2010.
"A local investor would be ideal," Whitsitt said. "But it's got to be the right one."
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