Bengals explore naming rights deal for Paul Brown Stadium

Hamilton County has confirmed the Cincinnati Bengals are exploring a potential naming rights deal for Paul Brown Stadium, prompting one expert to estimate the team could fetch up to $7 million a year and another to theorize a sports betting company will lay claim to the opportunity.

“Given the team’s recent success and incredible Super Bowl run, the team indicated that they would be exploring potential options regarding the naming rights of PBS,” said Bridget Doherty, Hamilton County spokesperson. “At this point, the county has not received a naming rights proposal pursuant to the terms of the lease.”

Paul Brown Stadium got its name when the Bengals purchased the naming rights from Hamilton County in a 1997 transaction valued at $5 million. The team retained the ability to sell those naming rights at any time during its 27-year lease and receive more than 70% of the revenue from such a deal.

Two-and-a-half decades later, the Bengals lease is close to expiring, Hamilton County is preparing to spend more than $500 million on improvements to the stadium and gaming companies have cracked the NFL’s longstanding opposition to marketing deals with its teams.

“These sports betting companies are looking for any way into the sports industry they can find,” said Eric Ramsey, lead market analyst for Play USA Network. “And yeah, naming rights are a huge opportunity from the gambling side of things.”

Ramsey thinks it is significant that the Bengals are raising the prospect of a naming rights deal at the same time Ohio prepares to launch a sports betting industry by Jan. 1.

The Bengals became the first local company to apply for a Type A betting license on July 8. If granted, the license would let the Bengals partner with two service providers that would offer online sports books using the team’s branding and marketing capabilities.

The Bengals identified one of its potential partners on July 13, when it announced a multi-year agreement with Betfred, a U.K. -based company that’s trying to grow its U.S. presence by entering the Ohio market. Ramsey thinks Betfred is too small to pull off a naming rights deal with the Bengals, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bengals secure a deal similar to one announced by the New Orleans Saints last year. Caesar’s Entertainment announced a 20-year naming rights agreement for the Superdome, agreeing to pay $138 million, or $6.9 million per year.

“:FanDuel may be one of the most likely companies to pull it off” in Ohio, Ramsey said.

The publisher of Football Stadium Digest said a financial services company is more likely to be interested in a Cincinnati naming rights deal.

“Even though everyone is embracing sports betting I don’t see that passing muster quite yet,” Kevin Reichard said. “A financial institution will also be able to leverage that somewhat by offering financial services, even if its just ATMs at a bank.”

Reichard said the Bengals should be able to secure between $5 million and $7 million on a naming rights deal, money that could be spent on players and stadium upgrades.

“One of the ways this money could be used directly is to pay for whatever the team decides to contribute to the stadium upgrades,” he said.

If the Bengals are looking to place a new name on Paul Brown Stadium before its NFL home opener Sept. 11, they’re running out of regularly scheduled meetings where city and county officials could approve such a deal.

The next Hamilton County Commissioner meetings are July 26 and 28, then Aug. 9 and 11. The next Cincinnati Planning Commission meetings are Aug. 5 and 19.

Paul Brown Stadium is just one of four NFL stadiums in the country that doesn’t hold the name of a corporate sponsor. If Paul Brown Stadium does don a new moniker, Soldier Field in Chicago, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and Lambeau Field in Green Bay will be the last holdouts.

As Cincinnati made a bid to host World Cup games in 2026, discussion arose about the condition in which Paul Brown Stadium has found itself. The stadium would have required at least $10 million worth of work to become FIFA-approved.

In August 2000, PBS opened to fans who were struck by the expansive views and post-modern, open-air design, but as the stadium enters its third decade of use, it’s considered middle-aged by NFL standards.

In May, an outside firm revealed in an assessment that more than $493 million is needed for renovations to the stadium in the coming two decades — not including the potential $200 million more it could cost to add luxury items like suites, high end food and drink, new signs and scoreboards.

WCPO is a content partner of Cox First Media.

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