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The Name Game

To sports enthusiasts, Enron bolsters the theory of a naming rights jinx.: 0nce a company commits its name to a ballpark, dome or arena, it could be just a matter of time before it winds up on its posterior. But don't tell that to Edward Jones.

To many Houstonians, Enron Field might as well be called Forget-Your-Job-and-Savings Field, or We-Lied-To-You-and-Tried-To-Get-Away-With-It Field. To sports enthusiasts, Enron bolsters the theory of a naming rights jinx. To wit: once a company commits its name to posterity on a ballpark, dome or arena, it could be just a matter of time before it winds up on its posterior.

But don't tell that to Edward Jones. In January, the St. Louis-based brokerage firm agreed to a $31.8 million, 12-year contract — including an option to extend it 11 more years at $3.2 million a year — to rename the Rams' home from the current “Dome at America's Center” to the “Edward Jones Dome.”

Up until last spring, the stadium was called the Trans World Dome. See where this is going? The dome's name was doomed from the beginning when, in 1995, the Rams signed a 20-year naming rights contract with the already twice bankrupt Trans World Airlines. TWA filed for a third time and in March 2001, the Rams and TWA terminated their $1.3 million a year naming rights contract.

Of course, Edward Jones is not alone. Among financial services firms that have plastered their names on venues in an attempt to gain brand recognition are Raymond James, Mellon and FleetBoston.

But with major-league name recognition comes major-league notoriety if something bad happens to the company. The Houston Astros know that only too well.

A contract is a contract, though. And while ex-Enron employees probably haven't had a lot of time to ponder the upcoming baseball season, Enron still managed to pull itself away from congressional hearings and bankruptcy court to come up with the $108,000 it owed for its 14-fan luxury suite and about $90,000 for 35 box seats, required under the terms of its 30-year deal.

The team, which says it has been “materially and adversely affected” by Enron's fall, filed a motion in bankruptcy court to determine whether the agreement between Enron and the Astros “should continue.”

Dean Bonham, of the Denver-based sports marketing firm The Bonham Group, dismisses the naming rights jinx as nonsense. “The fact of the matter is anyone who looks will see that the demise of a company is a function of internal decisions that have nothing to do with naming rights,” he says.

Bonham, who helped negotiate the naming rights deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park, says his company makes sure that their clients have the financial resources to cover contract terms. The financial services industry happens to be a “good match” for professional sports teams.

And while there's no Morgan Stanley Stadium or Lehman Brothers Field at this time, he says both would be great candidates.

Since 1998, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played in a stadium named for Raymond James. Move a bit east and see the Orlando Magic play in the TD Waterhouse Centre.

Pennsylvania has the Philadelphia Flyers and the 76ers playing in the First Union Center (the entire company is in the process of adopting merger partner Wachovia's name, and a spokeswoman says the arena's name will change, too). In Pittsburgh, the Penguins skate at the arena named after Mellon Financial, while the Pirates play at PNC Park. Note: Recently, PNC saw its stock price drop after regulators said the bank was using improper accounting practices. It also doesn't help that the Pirates were last in their division in 2001.

Boston's FleetCenter is home to the Bruins and the Celtics. And, don't forget the Denver Broncos' Invesco Field at Mile High. Local sports fans were so upset at the name change, a citizen lawsuit was filed to keep it Mile High Stadium. The Denver Post refuses to use the new appellation. And, unfortunately for Invesco, some even refer to it by the female contraceptive device (hint: not the one in the “Seinfeld” episode) it resembles.

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