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Illini offer naming rights to finance arena renovations

Illini offer naming rights to finance arena renovations

By Don Muret, Staff Writer

Published

University of Illinois officials are marketing a $60 million to $70 million naming-rights deal for Assembly Hall that would top the list of college sports facilities named for corporate entities.

Warren Hood, the athletic department’s top fundraiser, said the school is asking for $2 million to $3 million over 20 to 30 years to pay for a major renovation of the 48-year-old Big Ten basketball arena. Pending final design, those upgrades are projected to cost about $140 million.

Four Illinois companies have shown initial interest in the arena’s naming rights, all with a national footprint, said Hood, Illinois’ associate director of athletics for external operations. Hood would not identify the companies or their business categories.

It is an aggressive pitch for the arena called Assembly Hall for almost a half-century, naming-rights consultants said.

A formal proposal should be ready in the spring. The goal is to get a deal done 18 months before construction starts, so the sponsor can be involved with activation inside the arena.

Fresno State’s Save Mart Center, an arena that opened in 2003, has a 20-year naming-rights deal valued at $2 million a year. It carries the highest annual value of any college sports facility in the U.S., according to SportsBusiness Journal research.

A more comparable deal, for an older college facility with retroactive naming rights, is Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. In January, the airline signed a five-year deal, valued at $700,000 annually, for naming rights previously held for 10 years by Bank of America. The bank’s deal had a total value of $5 million.

In Champaign, Hood, who ran the fundraising campaign for the $123 million renovation of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, believes he is asking a fair price to name the 16,700-seat arena. The building also books several concerts and Broadway productions every year.

The Illinois campus is a 2 1/2-hour drive from Chicago, the country’s third-largest market. The national television exposure the Illinois men’s hoops program receives on CBS, ESPN and the Big Ten Network is another key part of the deal’s value, Hood said.

The renovation itself, a project spread over the next three to four years, will add roughly 20 suites, two clubs, courtside seats, 1,000 club seats and some loge boxes. Aecom is the architect and Turner Construction is the general contractor.

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