Denver Mayor Webb: "Not everything should be for sale"
Mon, 30 Oct 2000 10:49:50 -0500
Commercial Alert October 30, 2000
Following is a fine article about the effort to keep Denver's stadium
name "Mile High," from yesterday's New York Times.
Denver Journal: What's in a Stadium Name -- Tradition or Money?
by Michael Janofsky
"Not everything should be for sale," Mayor Wellington E. Webb said this
week -- raising more than a few eyebrows, because what he does not want
to sell could mean as much as $89 million for Denver and the surrounding
What he does not want to sell is the right to name the $400 million
football stadium under construction beside Mile High Stadium, the
rickety home of the city's beloved Denver Broncos since 1962.
The new stadium is scheduled to open next summer, in time for the start
of the 2001 season. Mile High will be leveled and the land will be
turned into a parking lot.
Ever since voters approved a small sales tax two years ago to finance
the new stadium, the question of what to call it has roiled the
community. Other cities in the same situation have solicited bids from
corporate interests, an exercise that generated millions of dollars for
the operating authorities and produced such evocative names as FedEx
Field outside Washington, PSINet Stadium in Baltimore, Alltel Stadium in
Jacksonville, Fla., and the Core States Arena in Philadelphia, which
became First Union Center after one bank acquired the other.
For some of those cities, the naming rights meant hundreds of millions
of dollars over the length of the contract.
Here, the solicitation proceeded in much the same way. A nine-member
panel of government representatives, the Metropolitan Football Stadium
District, was appointed to handle marketing issues and identify
potential sponsors. Local newspapers have reported that several
companies have expressed an interest, including AT&T Broadband, Janus
Capital Corporation and Invesco Funds Group.
A spokesman for the panel declined to comment on negotiations, other
than to say the published lists were inaccurate. But to Mr. Webb, it
hardly matters who the bidding companies are or even if the money would
be used to pay off the construction bonds early, saving the taxpayers
"My position is that everything in life is too unsettled," he said.
"Utility companies want to deregulate. With phone companies, you don't
know who's handling your calls -- AT&T, MCI, Sprint, whoever. Banks
change names so fast, the names on your checks don't correspond to who
owns the bank. So for me, why would you sell an identifiable icon, even
for millions of dollars? We're a Western city, a new city that doesn't
have many icons. Once they're gone, they're gone."
Old Mile High may be a tin-can structure, a gangly maze of seats and
beams that has no discernible style or panache, never mind luxury
suites. But what it does have, in its name, is a deep connection to a
city that sits 5,280 feet above sea level and projects an unmistakable
image based on its proximity to the Rocky Mountains. Officials in the
Colorado ski industry say that when it happens to be snowing on a day a
Broncos game is televised nationally, the ski resorts are bombarded with
telephone callers seeking reservations.
With the bidding process under way, Mr. Webb said he had received
countless calls, letters and e-mail messages expressing hope that the
new stadium keep the name Mile High. A poll commissioned by a new
grass-roots group, Friends of Mile High, found that nearly 70 percent of
the respondents preferred the old name to a commercialized alternative.
Mr. Webb's ardent support for retaining the old name has struck some
critics as irresponsible, inasmuch as taxpayers are bearing 75 percent
of the construction costs through a 10-year sales tax of one cent per
$10. The Broncos are paying the other 25 percent. Several local
officials say they favor selling the naming rights to pay down the debt
and have urged Mr. Webb to allow the district panel to do its job
without trying to influence public opinion.
But that is precisely why Mr. Webb, who is a Democrat, and other Mile
High supporters say they have been speaking out. They want to make sure
the panel fulfills each of the two requirements of the bonding
legislation: that bids are sought for naming rights, and that public
sentiment is taken into account.
John Hickenlooper, a Denver businessman who has helped lead the fight to
retain the Mile High name, said he feared that the Broncos' ownership,
which favors selling naming rights, had too much influence in the
solicitation process because of a $15 million no-interest loan by the
team early in the process to cover construction costs. If naming rights
are sold, the loan would be paid back right away from the proceeds.
Mr. Hickenlooper called the arrangement "a conflict of interests that
verges on corruption," an accusation the team disputes.
"We are a private company that is ultimately receiving the largest share
of financial gain," said Joe Ellis, vice president of business
operations for the Broncos, explaining the team's position. "If any
additional money could be brought in to ease taxpayer burdens, the
Broncos feel it our responsibility to support that kind of effort."
Still, Mr. Webb says he is unconvinced that dropping Mile High is the
right way to go.
"In New York, I can't imagine they'd change the name Yankee Stadium," he
said. "So why should we change our name here? And I think most people
agree with me."
<-----article ends here------>
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
Send Denver Mayor Wellington Webb a note of thanks for helping to keep
the name "Mile High" on Denver's stadium. His email is
<email@example.com> and phone is (720) 865-9000.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
See Commercial Alert's web page on stadium naming rights, at
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