North Little Rock's Verizon Arena open to new name

By: Kat Stromquist
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Verizon Arena is shown in this 2018 file photo.
Verizon Arena is shown in this 2018 file photo.

Verizon Arena officials announced Tuesday that a search is underway for a new naming rights sponsor that will rename the North Little Rock venue.

The arena is looking to sign a deal for the naming rights that would go into effect when the current 20-year contract with Verizon expires in October 2019, General Manager Michael Marion said.

Officials are in the process of putting together a request for proposals from prospective sponsors but don't yet have a firm deadline on when that request will be completed or a new sponsor will be selected.

"Soon, is about the best answer I can give you," Marion said of the request for proposals. "It'd be nice, in my mind, if we could find somebody by next spring."

The arena, which hosts about 400,000 visitors each year for concerts, comedy shows, monster truck rallies and other events, has had only one naming sponsor since opening as Alltel Arena in 1999. The original $7 million sponsorship deal was with Alltel Wireless, whose 2009 merger with Verizon Wireless led to a name change at the venue.

When arena officials reached out to Verizon a few weeks ago to discuss renewing the arrangement, company officials weren't interested, Marion said.

"Verizon has decided not to renew our sponsorship of the Verizon Arena in [North] Little Rock," Verizon regional spokesman Jeannine Brew Braggs said in a statement about the decision. "We regularly evaluate our business investments and make decisions that are in the best interest of our customers, business partners and the Verizon brand."

Marion said he is hopeful the new arrangement will provide financial benefits to the arena, compared to the original sponsorship deal. Typically, naming rights agreements provide operating revenue on an ongoing basis to venues through the duration of a contract.

In this case, the original sponsorship deal provided a one-time windfall that helped make improvements before the venue opened -- for example, it enabled an upgrade to the bid for the venue's seating from plastic seating to padded chairs -- but has not made up any part of the arena's budget, Marion said.

While he didn't have a ready estimate as to how much the arena hopes to get, Marion said the independently managed venue is reviewing recently signed deals in similar secondary markets without a primary sports tenant -- such as in Omaha, Neb., and Moline, Ill. -- to determine the value of the arrangement.

According to The Associated Press, the nonprofit health system CHI Health recently made a $26.3 million deal for the naming rights to Omaha's convention center and arena. Last year, financial services firm TaxSlayer paid $3.3 million for the naming rights to the former iWireless Center arena in Moline, according to the Quad-City Times.

"Needless to say, money's a big factor in it," Marion said, "but we'd also like to have something that matches with us. ... We'd love to have somebody local there."

Under a new sponsor, Marion anticipates spending money on "capital improvements" but said patrons should not immediately expect to see any major redesigns, other than new signs.

Arena Marketing Director Jana DeGeorge said the deal also will rename the private drive beside the arena, currently named Verizon Arena Way.

According to Marion, the arena is "self-sustaining," which means it does not receive any tax money, although its construction was partially funded by a one-time sales tax and it is overseen by a five-member Pulaski County board. Its budget is roughly $7.5 million per year.

Marion expects the new naming rights deal to be for a 10-year term, which is more typical of contemporary arrangements, he said.

Arena officials do not presently have a wish list or set of requirements for prospective sponsors. Marion joked that he'd love to see a Marvel Comics-sponsored deal, but ultimately the winning bid probably will be determined by financial concerns.

"You think about who the deep pockets are: banks, large retailers. ... I'm trying to be open-minded about it," Marion said.

Metro on 09/26/2018

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