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Bears In Line For Halas Hall Naming Rights Pay Day

Crain's Chicago Business, March 04, 2013

By Danny Ecker

As construction continues on a drastic upgrade and renovation to Halas Hall, the Chicago Bears' Lake Forest practice facility, the team is lining up potential buyers for naming rights to the 30,000 square feet of added space.

The Bears' marketing brass has met with "a couple dozen" major Chicago businesses over the last month to discuss potential deals, says Chris Hibbs, the team's vice president of sales and marketing, who is aiming to close a deal by early this summer.

The sale will not change the name of Halas Hall itself but will apply to the new event center, practice-viewing luxury suites, hall of champions and state-of-the-art broadcast studio that will be tacked onto the 16-year-old building.

The team is seeking a 10-year title sponsorship for an undisclosed price, but experts say it could range from the mid six figures to as much as $2 million a year, based on comparable deals at other NFL practice facilities.

"It's a unique approach," says Jordan Bressler, president of Deerfield sports marketing agency TSMGI Inc., who negotiated Aon Corp.'s record jersey sponsorship deal in 2009 with English Premier League soccer team Manchester United.

"It gives a corporation the ability to differentiate themselves from the clutter at Soldier Field. If it's structured the right way, it could be a really smart deal," says Mr. Bressler, who adds that he has looked at the opportunity on behalf of a client.

Most NFL teams that have sold naming rights to practice facilities have done so for the entire building, like the New York Giants' Timex Performance Center or the Philadelphia Eagles' NovaCare Complex, which netted each franchise more than $2 million a year, according to estimates from Chicago-based sports marketing firm IEG LLC.

But the value of the Bears deal is tougher to gauge because it is only for a portion of the building, falling somewhere between a full naming rights agreement and an "enhanced corporate partner" deal, like a company lending its name to a stadium's luxury suites.

The new facility, for example, may be called "Company X Center at Halas Hall," but coverage from local media will probably still use phrases like "Live at Halas Hall," without mention of the sponsoring company.

"You're not going to get that exposure for your brand," says IEG Senior Vice President Jim Andrews, who calls putting the name on the building the "icing on the cake," while the real value would come from other uses of the facility, for things like corporate entertainment.

Mr. Hibbs acknowledges the limits of the potential media exposure but is trying to sell the "turnkey" experiences that companies may want.

"The signage is not going to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people a year," he says. "But there are a number of practice viewing suites at the 50-yard-line (of the practice fields), there's event space for shows, quarterly sales meetings, client events, appearances by coaches and players — lots of that will be built in."

Of course, that a naming rights deal is on the table in the first place is a notable development for the franchise, which has been more aggressive on such incremental revenue opportunities since George McCaskey took over as the team's chairman in 2011.

The Bears scrape up incremental revenue where they can to make up for the fact that they don't own Soldier Field and cannot sell those potentially lucrative naming rights. In fact, this naming rights deal will be the first sale of a building title in the team's history, according to Mr. Hibbs, something that may not have been an option under previous leadership.

Mr. McCaskey "has shown everybody that he does things a bit differently," Mr. Hibbs said. "There's no idea that's not worth consideration."

The Halas Hall naming rights sale also means there are now two major title sponsorship deals on the Chicago market, as the Chicago Bulls are seeking a buyer for naming rights to their new downtown practice facility set to open in 2014, which could net the team more than $1 million a year.

The upgrades to Halas Hall are scheduled to be finished by Aug. 1.