U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. (Photo: Hennez via Wikimedia Commons)
When the Chicago White Sox announced last week their stadium will be renamed Guaranteed Rate Field, the move was met with a number of questions.
What pithy nickname will fans call the stadium now that “The Cell”—inspired by former sponsor U.S. Cellular Corp.—is gone? And how will the Chicago-based mortgage company’s logo, which contains a red arrow pointing downward, inspire confidence?
But for all the external—and likely short-term—confusion following the deal’s announcement last week, there is genuine excitement about the partnership between Guaranteed Rate Inc. and Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox, said Harris Eisenberg, the Katten Muchin Rosenman partner who represented the team on the naming rights accord that runs through 2029 with an option for 2030.
The White Sox reached out to Guaranteed Rate with the idea, Eisenberg said, and the company quickly responded with enthusiasm. That response made Eisenberg’s work on the deal—helping draft and negotiate the contract terms between the parties—go smoothly. White Sox general counsel John Corvino and Guaranteed Rate legal chief Neil Hayes also worked on the matter.
“The deal came together from a business perspective fairly quickly, as well as from a legal perspective,” said Eisenberg, who became a partner this year after working closely as an associate with partner Adam Klein, chair of Katten’s sports and sports facilities practice.
“Oftentimes the excitement of the principals results in the legal process going fairly smoothly and efficiently, as it did in this case,” Eisenberg said.
The White Sox, who until 1991 played at Comiskey Park, have long been represented by Katten, where White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was once a tax partner.
Katten isn’t the only firm this month bringing in billable hours by changing the nameplate on a sports stadium. Two more such deals recently took place in California, and another in Florida.
Mark Eisner, a partner at Los Angeles-based Eisner Jaffe, which just handled the $100 million sale of the Playboy Mansion, represented Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) in its sponsorship deal with the Banc of California Inc. for the team’s new 22,000-seat stadium, which is set to open in 2018. (The Am Law Daily reported in 2014 on a Foley & Lardner partner’s ownership stake in the MLS team.)
Brian Ashin, who last summer became a corporate and finance partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Washington, D.C., advised San Jose State University in the sale of naming rights for the school’s football stadium to Citizens Equity First Credit Union. While financial terms for the White Sox and LAFC deals were not disclosed, the San Jose State naming rights transaction is worth $8.7 million.
For the next 15 years, the former “Spartan Stadium” will be called “CEFCU Stadium—Home of the Spartans.” It is the first such agreement for the California University system, according to a press release announcing the deal, and funds from the sale will be spent on scholarships and supporting athletics.
Arent Fox partner Richard Brand, a well-known sports industry lawyer, represented the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins in a $250 million deal this month with Hard Rock International to change the name of the team’s stadium in South Florida. The 18-year deal creating Hard Rock Stadium is reportedly among the three most valuable for NFL stadiums.
Brand, who heads Arent Fox’s sports practice and serves as managing partner of the firm’s San Francisco office, has handled a number of stadium naming rights deals. A year ago this month, he counseled Mercedes-Benz USA LLC on a naming rights and sponsorship deal with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLS’ Atlanta United FC for a new stadium in the city slated to open next year. Arent Fox said the accord was the largest-ever marketing deal for Mercedes-Benz.
On Thursday, Brand and Arent Fox took the lead for the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers on an agreement with the University of California, Los Angeles, to rename the team’s new practice and training facility. UCLA Health will also serve as the exclusive provider of in-game health care for Lakers players.