By DANIEL TAUB
Talk about your ultimate billboard: The Academy Awards theater at TrizecHahn Corp.’s Hollywood & Highland project is in need of a name most likely from a corporate sponsor willing to shell out big bucks for maximum exposure.
It’s Jeff Knapple’s job to find that name and cut a deal.
Knapple is making a business out of connecting sponsors with developments, having brokered the Staples Center naming and now working on similar deals involving arenas that host the Detroit Pistons (basketball), Nashville Predators (hockey) and Miami Fusion (soccer).
“We sort of just cornered a niche,” said Knapple, who founded the L.A.-based sports marketing firm Envision just eight months ago. “And it just happens to be a pretty good niche to corner.”
More than $1.4 billion in naming rights contracts have been signed since 1989, according to Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports marketing firm. The deals have grown progressively more expensive, with the three priciest American Airlines Center in Dallas, Philips Arena in Atlanta and PSINet Stadium in Baltimore all signed over the past three months. The American Airlines and Philips deals each approached $200 million.
Envision typically gets an up-front fee from the holder of the naming rights usually the owners of the teams that play in the venue or the municipality where it’s located. After finding a sponsor, the firm gets a percentage of the final cost of those rights.
Knapple said his biggest current project is finding a sponsor to name the Academy Awards theater an unusual deal, he says, since the company that acquires the naming rights will get worldwide exposure during the Oscars, always one of the year’s most-watched television events.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime for someone,” Knapple said.
He won’t predict whether the price tag will exceed the $100 million that Westboro, Mass.-based Staples Inc. is paying over the next 20 years to be naming sponsor for the new downtown sports arena that will be home to the Lakers, Clippers and Kings. “It’ll be a fair market price,” he said of the Academy deal.
In the search for a corporate sponsor, Envision is working with TrizecHahn and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has final approval of any naming rights deal and is consulting with the William Morris Agency Inc.
Knapple would not discuss revenues at Envision, which is a partnership between himself and Anschutz Corp. (owned by Philip Anschutz, co-developer of Staples Center). But he expects the first year to be profitable. “I think, from a starting perspective, that may have surprised some people,” he said.
Besides Staples, Knapple was the lead broker on Philips Electronics N.V.’s $181.9 million sponsorship of the Philips Arena, where the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and Thrashers expansion hockey team will play after the arena is completed this fall.
Knapple worked on that deal and the Staples Center contract while at ProServ Inc., a sports marketing firm now owned by SFX Entertainment Inc., a New York producer of live entertainment events. The 42-year-old Knapple, a former quarterback for the Denver Broncos, was managing director at ProServ for 15 years before he left last summer to form Envision.
“Jeff (Knapple) came highly recommended when we were searching for expertise in the field Our charge was to seek out the preeminent expert in naming rights,” said Bob Williams, president of Philips Arena.
Knapple, who says only a third of Envision’s current revenues come from naming rights, expects some 40 to 50 arenas, stadiums, theaters and other facilities to be looking for naming sponsors over the next decade.
The firm also does consulting work for McDonald’s Corp., UAL Corp.’s United Airlines and Hershey Foods Corp., as well as such entertainment companies as Columbia Tri-Star.
Knapple typically is hired by the holders of naming rights, then seeks out companies interested in having their name attached to an arena or other venue. The companies benefit in some obvious ways, ranging from having their name printed on tickets to getting numerous mentions during television and radio broadcasts.
In the case of Staples Center, the name also will be visible at one of the nation’s busiest freeway interchanges.
David M. Carter, principal of downtown L.A.-based Sports Business Group and a marketing professor at USC, said Envision has been formed at an ideal time, given the large number of stadiums being built and the growth of sports marketing in general.
“What’s likely to happen, if the market for naming rights begins to wane a little bit, is that they will be in a very good position to continue serving those (client) companies as sports marketing continues to evolve,” Carter said. “They are at a great spot at a great time.”