Naming Rights For Budget Cuts

By Dianne Hoover

Public parks and recreation departments across theU.S.have felt the squeeze of the economic downturn over the past few years. Many agencies have closed facilities and faced massive budget cuts and layoffs--all to the detriment of the citizens they are trying to serve. These agencies have had to find other ways to do business to survive and thrive.

Fighting this downward spiral, the city ofBakersfield,Calif., opened five new parks in 2011--two lighted sports facilities, two neighborhood parks, and one nature-education park--all 10 acres or more. By instituting a combination of naming-rights, partnerships, grants, and park-development fees, the new parks are a welcome addition to the community.

Create A Culture

Naming-rights of public facilities can be controversial for some agencies; however, this city has a successful history of tapping corporations to assist in supporting public venues. In 2004, a family-owned business stepped up to name the newMcMurteyAquaticCenter.

In 2005, the city entered into a 10-year agreement with financial-services provider Rabobank to name the city’s convention center and arena for $2.5 million. This created a community culture of corporate naming-rights for public venues.

A Bright Idea

The next opportunity for naming-rights at a park came in 2006 with the opening of The Park at River Walk, containing a 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheatre. City Manager Alan Tandy and Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover appealed to members of the chamber of commerce to name the facility. After providing tours to various businesses, the local cable company--Bright House Networks--provided a proposal totaling $500,000 for 5 years. The offer was a combination of cash and advertising--$75,000 in cash to bring in entertainment and $25,000 in advertising annually.

Colleen Dillaway, director of marketing in the cable company, says: “Bright House Networks is proud of the partnership we’ve forged with the city ofBakersfield, both during and after the naming-rights for the Bright House Networks Amphitheatre were secured. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship whereby we have increased visibility in the community, and the residents … can enjoy a world-class facility featuring an incredible variety of entertainment.”

In addition to naming-rights, the cable company installed Wi-Fi throughout the park at no cost to the city. Since that time, the company has installed Wi-Fi at three additional parks, still at no cost to the city. In 2011, Bright House Networks renewed its naming-rights contract for another 5 years, this time for $60,000 cash and $40,000 in advertising.

The Triple Payoff

In 2006, city officials began working with a local youth-baseball nonprofit group known as Bakersfield Southwest Baseball (BSWB) to relocate its home fields to a 40-acre water-recharge area in a popular part of the city. BSWB--serving almost 1,800 youth annually--was about to lose its lease with Cal State-Bakersfield and needed a new home. The negotiated agreement included assistance from BSWB to build the facility, as well as a 15-year commitment to maintain the facility once it opened. BSWB tapped into its parental resources and was able to construct the restroom/concession building and install 100 percent of the fencing at no cost to the city. The city, in turn, installed the park road, parking lot, irrigation, and signage.

With the 15-year agreement in hand, BSWB contacted various companies to become the major naming sponsor. A three-way agreement was negotiated between BSWB, the city, and Aera Energy for $250,000 to go toward construction costs. (Aera Energy is an oil conglomerate headquartered inBakersfield.) The 15-year agreement runs concurrently with the BSWB lease agreement. This was a win-win for all three parties--BSWB contributed toward its new home fields, the city had a new youth-baseball complex maintained by the primary users, and Aera Energy put its name on a city park. In addition, Aera Energy made a contribution toward a children’s play area to be used by families watching ballgames, as well as for neighborhood children. The 11-field, 40-acre complex opened in April 2009 to rave reviews.

Darren Billesbach, current President of BSWB, says, “Our partnership with the city, their contributions during construction, and the constant support we get from them has enabled BSWB to become the best place to play baseball.” Cris Langston, facility manager with BSWB, adds, “We could not have built a facility that benefits approximately 4,000 players each year without the partnership we had in developingAeraParkinto such a beautiful ballpark. Pony baseball has recognized us as the second-largest Pony organization in the nation. They have never been able to host as many all-star divisional tournaments at one site as they have done in the past two years; and this year we will host district, sectional, and regional tournaments for 5- through 14-year-old players.”

The State Of Success

Building on the successful history of partnerships and naming-rights with public facilities, city staff negotiated a lease agreement with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), Region 73 to maintain and operate eight lighted soccer fields in the first phase of a master-planned major sports complex. AYSO, Region 73 used fields at Cal State-Bakersfield for a number of years, but was being displaced due to campus expansion. The city had completed a master plan for a 200-acre complex, commonly referred to asSportsVillage. Once it is built, the complex will contain:

  • 16 soccer fields

  • Four youth-football fields

  • 10 softball diamonds

  • A community center

  • Miles of paved walking paths

  • Numerous picnic/children’s play areas.

Phase I development included the first eight lighted soccer fields with concessions, restrooms, and a parking lot.  AYSO, Region 73 entered into a 5-year agreement to operate and maintain the fields, as well as to complete the interior of the concession stand. To save maintenance costs, the city was able to install a purple pipe system for irrigation of the fields, and use tertiary water from the adjacent water treatment. Park-development funds were used to construct the fields in the first phase of the soccer complex, which opened in July, 2011.

City staff sought naming rights for the complex since its inception, but until there were completed fields, there were no takers. After opening day, State Farm agreed to a 5-year deal for $500,000, to be paid in two equal installments early in 2012 to assist with construction of Phase II.

State Farm Senior Vice President Tom Conley says, “We are very proud to partner with the city … and sponsor the State Farm Sports Village. State Farm is committed to helping meet the needs of our communities, and one of our focus areas is strong neighborhoods. This premiere complex houses the city’s first soccer complex, which will serve thousands of youth inBakersfieldandKernCounty. We are excited about the recreational opportunities the [sports complex] will provide for families in the area.”

Scheduled to open in 2013, Phase II includes four soccer fields and four youth-football fields. The local youth-football organization also has an agreement to maintain and operate the football fields, as well as to contribute toward lights and goals. Once the second phase opens, more than 4,000 children will be participating in active sports, in addition to various tournaments and adult sports leagues with activities year-round.

No one can predict the future of public parks and recreation agencies, but it is clear that they will no longer be able to rely on tax dollars for sustainability. Engaging with corporations, local businesses, healthcare organizations, and non-profits is one way to successfully maintain programs and provide services to citizens.

Dianne Hoover, CPRP, is the director of the Parks and Recreation Department for the city of Bakersfield in California. Reach her at .