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First Horizon Inks 2 Stadium Deals

Naming rights bought for Greensboro, Nashville ballparks

January 11, 2005


The love affair between the mortgage industry and professional sports appears to show no signs of waning.

Joining the latest trend of affiliating with big sports organizations, First Horizon recently jumped in on two ballpark deals.

First Horizon Home Loans acquired the naming rights to the new homefield of the minor league Greensboro Grasshoppers in North Carolina, while First Tennessee Bank gained rights for the to-be-built stadium of the Nashville Sounds.

First Horizon bought the naming rights for the downtown Greensboro stadium, First Horizon Park, for 10 years, or through the 2015 season, according to a company announcement. First Horizon regional president Kelly Starkey, who spearheaded the negotiation, declined to disclose the amount paid for the deal, but said it was "very close" to a reported $3 million.

"Timing was perfect," Starkey said in a written statement. "We were already planning on having a larger presence in Greensboro before we knew of plans for the ballpark. It just so happens that now we are able to use the ballpark as a great marketing tool for our company."

First Horizon, which reported over $47 billion in loan originations during 2003, currently has three offices in the Greensboro area and has plans to double that number by the end of 2005, Starkey told MortgageDaily.com.

In October, the baseball team's executives announced the Grasshoppers' name change from the Greensboro Bats, and their relocation to a new downtown homefield scheduled to open April 3, 2005, in a game against its affiliate major league team, the Florida Marlins.

The Grasshoppers said the deal will help offset some of the approximately $21 million it cost to build the ballpark.

First Horizon will gain exposure through signage located throughout the park reflecting its name, including the large arch above the scoreboard, at the entrance, a tri-vision sign in the home bullpen, the first base dugout top, and a backlit fascia sign. The signage on the scoreboard will reflect the name on both sides, giving visibility within the park and outward to a street, according to the announcement.

This signage is expected to go up within the next 30 days, the spokeswoman said.

Starkey grew open to the idea of acquiring the Greensboro naming rights after learning a ballpark in Tennessee was looking for a partner as well.

That partner ended up being First Horizon's affiliate, First Tennessee Bank, which snatched a deal for the Sounds' downtown Nashville park giving it naming rights for 15 years. The stadium, which will be named First Tennessee Field, is scheduled to be completed in 2007, Starkey said.

The Nashville stadium's naming rights deal called for $250,000-a-year, Sounds General Manager Glenn Yaeger reportedly told Tennessean.com.

Yaeger reportedly said First Tennessee, as the official bank of the Sounds in their current home, Greer Stadium, had in their contract a provision that gave them first negotiating rights.

The $43 billion ballpark received the support of several banks, including Bank of America, SunTrust, Regions, and U.S. Bank, that agreed to provide $23 million in financing for the project, Tennessean.com reported.

First Horizon's venture into the wide world of sports isn't the only recent transaction between a mortgage company and a sports organization.

CitiFinancial recently announced it put its name on a NASCAR racing car, which will make its debut on Feb. 26 at the California Speedway, and that it will sponsor 19 races in 2005, including NASCAR's debut race in Mexico on March 6.

Ameriquest Mortgage Co., which carries the naming rights to the Texas Rangers baseball field in Arlington, Texas, reported it made a deal with the NFL to be the "Official Mortgage Company Sponsor of the NFL" and is the halftime sponsor for the Superbowl.

One of the latest deals involves Quicken Loans mogul Dan Gilbert, who is leading an investor group to buy the Cleveland Cavaliers for $375 million.

Coco Salazar is an assistant editor and staff writer for MortgageDaily.com.

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