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United Airlines Locks In United Center Naming Rights For 20 Years

Crain's Chicago Business, December 11, 2013

By Danny Ecker

United Airlines has announced a new sponsorship agreement that buys it the naming rights of the United Center for the next 20 years.

The company's title sponsorship with the arena — home of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks — dates back to its 1994 inception but was set to expire in 2014.

The financial terms were not disclosed. But industry observers estimate the current marketing agreement has been worth about $36 million over the life of the deal, according to sports sponsorship firm IEG LLC, which has not been involved in the United Center/United Airlines negotiations.

The United Center places second among all 29 NBA arenas in media exposure, according to New York-based research firm Repucom. Accordingly, experts expect the new United Center deal to be more valuable.

Chicago-based United Airlines will continue to serve as the official carrier of the arena, as well as the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks, and will be the exclusive airline advertiser at the United Center.

“We're thrilled to have United Airlines on board for another 20 years. We are proud of the partnership and what it will continue to mean to the United Center, from our fans and customers, to the positive economic role the United Center will continue to play in Chicago,” Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said in a statement.

The Near West Side arena will install new United Airlines signage and other elements over the next four to six months, according to the statement.

“As Chicago's hometown airline, we are delighted to continue our partnership with one of the most recognizable sports and entertainment facilities in the world,” United Executive Vice President Jeff Foland said in the statement.

United Center Joint Venture, the owner and operator of the stadium, is co-owned by Mr. Wirtz and Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

United Airlines will also be the presenting sponsor for the United Center's 25th anniversary celebration during the 2019-20 season.

The Bulls are also shopping naming rights for their new practice facility next door to the United Center, which is now being built. Bulls President Michael Reinsdorf — Jerry Reinsdorf's son — said recently that the search for the naming rights is independent of the United Center's deal with United Airlines.