In any negotiation, timing is critical, and I feel the time is now perfect for me to make my bid for naming rights to the Louisiana Superdome. So, let me go on record right now: I will pay $300, cash or check, for a one-year deal (possibly renewable; details to be negotiated) to rename that famous stadium the Moneybox Superdome.
Here in New Orleans (where this column is mysteriously based), there was a good deal of discussion over the potential worth of Superdome naming rights in the months leading up to the start of the current NFL season. Our local franchise, the Saints, had a surprisingly good season in 2000, winning its division and enjoying its first-ever playoff victory. But the team’s ownership fell into a very messy public argument with the state over the possibility of building a new stadium: The state resisted this notion, which would have cost it a good deal of money. The details of the squabble aren’t worth going into here, but it was, and is, an enormous local story.
One interesting number that emerged, as the state argued for keeping the Saints in the Superdome, was the proposal to sell naming rights, which it was suggested could fetch up to $3 million. It was never particularly clear where this figure came from, but it still seems to be hanging around as a guess at the annual revenue that the naming rights might bring in. One assumes that part of the logic back when the number first surfaced must have been that the Saints were on their way to a great and attention-getting 2001 season, and that the dome would be hosting its sixth Super Bowl this Feb. 3. Nevertheless, the Saints’ owner—in a lengthy press conference that was televised live here—was rather dismissive of the $3 million figure, arguing that no one really knew if the rights would even fetch $3.
Well. Whoever was right, it definitely didn’t seem like the right time for me to wade in with a bid. So I waited. Since then there’s been little news about tangible progress in the naming-rights quest, but many other events have lined up in my favor. Last week’s loss to Tampa Bay has pretty much ensured that the Saints won’t be going to the playoffs this year, and this season has now been disappointing enough that I suspect drumming up interest in the team will be far harder in 2002. Meanwhile, Super Bowl XXXVI—which obviously would have offered a big branding bang—is now mere weeks away; any bidder emerging at this point will be gambling that the Saints, and perhaps future Super Bowls, will continue on in the Superdome. A big company might not want to accept the implied risk, but Moneybox will.
Moreover, the country’s economy has slid into recession, and the major corporations that have in the recent past been willing to shell out millions of dollars to slather their logos on sporting arenas are a good deal more tight-fisted today. Finally, the whole concept of paying mega-bucks for naming rights has simply become less popular since that $3 million figure emerged. Now when the subject comes up, you’re less likely to hear about the marketing benefits and more likely to hear speculation that naming deals are a kind of curse. The implosion of Enron, and the resulting jokes that Houston’s Enron Field might be renamed Creditors Committee Stadium, is only the latest example. Again, Moneybox is willing to stare down this potential curse, even if publicly held firms are not.
Clearly, then, the time is right for me to make my move. Please note that I’m offering a staggering 100-times the publicly floated figure of $3. Pretty generous. Please also note that I’m good for the $300, even if it turns out that I can’t sneak a reimbursement request past Slate’s owners at Microsoft. Also, I don’t even need a big splashy sign, just a small, tasteful plaque in the lobby, identifying the building as the Moneybox Superdome, will be sufficient.
Admittedly, I’m coming in lower than the ideal $3 million. But my offer isn’t based on some set of hypotheticals—it’s on the table. If Kermit Ruffins, Uglesich Restaurant & Bar, the Mystick Krewe of Comus, or some other local institution (or even a major company) is willing to top my generous $300 bid, so be it. If not, let’s get this thing settled before Feb. 3. I have no idea why the naming rights are even still up for grabs at this late date, since it’s hard to imagine that their theoretical value is going to increase once this season, and the Super Bowl, have come and gone. So now’s the time for all to act. After all, I can only assume that the proposal to sell the naming rights in the first place was a serious one—at least as serious as my offer to buy them.