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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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And now, a kind word for our sponsors

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review

The blowup over possibly renaming the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena should not be the end of a worthwhile discussion over the potential value of corporate sponsorships. Spokane-area business, entertainment and sports venues, public and private, could benefit from a new revenue source.

In fact, it’s a good place and time to start or renew consideration of criteria that might guide name changes or other types of partnerships increasingly attached to all but the nation’s most hallowed stadiums and parks. The Spokane Parks and Recreation Board adopted a policy on names back in 1999. The Spokane County Parks Advisory Board is gathering sample policies from other communities to help it decide how pools and other assets might reflect sponsorships.

There are several good examples out there.

The City of Tacoma adopted a policy on name changes in 1989. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department put one in place in early 2003. A 2002 survey of 600 King County residents showed 71 percent would allow the sale of naming rights and other types of corporate sponsorships. Not surprising, really, from the home of Safeco Field and Key Arena, Benaroya Hall and Marion Oliver McCaw Hall.

Spokane has Avista Stadium and the Met Theater, and not much else.

The Arena probably has more value to a potential sponsor than any other local venue, especially with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and NCAA men’s basketball tournament first-round play coming in 2007. But messing with veterans, in name or in fact, required more tact than the Spokane Public Facilities Board and Brett Sports, its marketing agent, showed initially. They got the message.

“I don’t think anybody in this process is trying to dismiss anything veterans have done,” says Bobby Brett, president Of Brett Sports. Veterans groups will be consulted if a sponsorship deal emerges that recognizes their concerns.

The word “Veterans” would be retained in any case, he says.

Brett says the Arena is in good condition today, but in 10 or 20 years, will face major maintenance needs. If the old Spokane Veterans Memorial Coliseum had been properly cared for, it might still be standing, he says.

Spokane County officials were discussing demolition of a decrepit Indians Stadium when Brett Sports purchased the baseball team in 1985. Instead, the team approached the county commissioners about sponsorship, first by Seafirst Bank, now by Avista Corp. Sponsorship revenues — about $80,000 a year — have helped rehabilitate the stadium, which this year will sport a new scoreboard.

Avista renewed its sponsorship last year. Company spokesman Pat Lynch says Avista benefits from being associated with a landmark like the stadium and a family activity like baseball. The utility has never used the stadium as a marketing venue except to encourage the use of low-energy light bulbs and other energy conservation devices.

Brett Sports, he adds, has been an excellent partner.

Facilities District Executive Director Kevin Twohig says focus on the Arena has been a distraction.

“Our real interest is in finding a naming rights owner for the Opera House,” an older building with more urgent maintenance needs, he says.

Since the Facilities District took possession of the Opera House in 2003 the air-conditioning system, seating, and lighting have been upgraded. A new sound system and repainting are scheduled this year. But, says Twohig, the current maintenance budget, $400,000, is only half what is needed to catch up with the work that should be done within the next several years.

With a sponsor, he says, “We could have a dramatically better Opera House in a couple years.”

The Convention Center, now undergoing a major expansion with the addition of a new exhibit hall, should also be an attractive facility for sponsors, Twohig says.

Taxpayers should welcome relief from a responsible corporate citizen, like Avista, attuned to the community. Granted, naming or renaming sports and entertainment facilities can misfire for lack of taste or luck. How misbegotten was the decision to put the name “Enron Field” on the Houston Astros new ballpark? But when well done, as with Avista Stadium or Safeco Field, the marriage of facility and sponsor can work to the benefit of corporation and public alike.

Fortunately, the Facilities District board members have a record of moving cautiously. They bobbled the ball at the Arena, but they can still make the play.

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