Name rights up for grabs?
Colorado Convention Center, theaters consider fundraising
Denver and the country’s largest nonprofit theater group hope to raise millions by selling naming rights to the Colorado Convention Center, the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the individual theaters inside it, The Denver Post has learned.
The plan could net tens of millions of dollars and help close funding gaps for proposed renovations, according to city officials and leaders at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
But before the city-owned and nonprofit organizations that run these big cultural institutions can book a dime of new revenue, they’ll need to work through a thicket of restrictions and complex renovation and redevelopment plans, and navigate public sentiment that values familiar names over corporate logos.
The city’s naming-rights plans would be separate from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA), the nonprofit theater group that is the largest tenant in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. That downtown complex, which also hosts Opera Colorado,
the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Ballet, is scheduled for a massive overhaul by the city.
“Making sure that our theaters remain worldclass will complement the redevelopment in the Next Stage plan,” DCPA president and CEO Janice Sinden said.
The Next Stage plan, still in the early phases, would renovate and expand the Denver Performing Arts Complex to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, including proposed new high-rise buildings and a new parking structure.
The Next Stage is managed by the city’s Arts & Venues arm, so it would not include proposed renovations to the DCPA’s own Stage and Ricketson theaters within the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex. The DCPA also manages the Space, Jones, Garner Galleria and Conservatory theaters, as well as the Donald Seawell Ballroom.
“The only theaters we have the ability to influence the name of are contained in the Bonfils,” Sinden said. “So we would have the ability to solicit a $5 million donor, let’s say, for the Stage Theatre naming.”
DCPA has requested $19 million from Mayor Michael Hancock’s $937 million proposed General Obligation Funds package, up for a vote in November, for its theater renovations. Revenue from naming rights could help fill the gap between the money DCPA needs and the money it actually receives, according to a DCPA spokeswoman.
Sinden raised the naming rights issue during a recent Denver Post interview with new board chairman Martin Semple, who took the reins July 1. Since hiring chief development officer Deanna Haas this year — a position that was empty for the last 2½ years — the DCPA is quietly launching its first big capital campaign, which is being presented to trustees for approval.
“We’ve never really been involved in any kind of major fundraising in the 40 years of our existence, and that’s going to be a whole new challenge,” Sinden said of the campaign, which will include the naming-rights proposal.
Currently there are no corporate names attached to the DCPA’s theaters, the Denver Performing Arts Complex or the Colorado Convention Center as a whole. However, Greenwood Village-based Bellco Credit Union is paying $250,000 per year in a five-year contract that names the convention center’s 5,000-seat venue as the Bellco Theatre (formerly the Wells Fargo Theatre).
A spokesman for Visit Denver, the city’s tourism bureau that programs the convention center, referred naming-rights questions to Denver Arts & Venues.
The sale and valuation of naming rights for the convention center and arts complex, both owned by the city, necessarily falls to Arts & Venues. But it’s a tangled process that involves numerous, everchanging factors, officials warned.
Any naming-rights deal would need to fit into a bond-council analysis, which weighs the private use of a corporation against a percentage of the what they might receive from the deal, compared to whatever bond money was used to finance the original project.
“With something like Bellco, it ends up being fairly strict advertising. They don’t have a bank in- side the building, so there’s not much to consider in terms of private use,” said Brian Kitts, director of marketing and communications for Arts & Venues. “If the DCPA were to talk about naming rights to its theaters … they’ve got names on some of those theaters anyway and it doesn’t necessarily matter whether it is a person’s name or a corporation. The Ellie (Caulkins Opera House) is another good example.”
Arts & Venues officials have examined models for public-private namingrights partnerships from “all over the country” as part of the Next Stage plan, Kitts said, although he did not name specific cities.
“We’ve done a preliminary look at what the value of DPAC would be but, without knowing what the redevelopment of the Next Stage truly includes, the range wasn’t very accurate,” he said. “It’s a real chicken/egg thing.”
The dollar value attached to naming rights also depends on the deal’s terms, including the length of the contract. Naming rights for the Pepsi Center, for example, included a 20year tenure. And Kitts, who formerly worked for Pepsi Center owner Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, said deals of that length are harder to land.
The city runs into similar issues with the Colorado Convention Center, which is eyeing a $233 million price tag for its own looming renovations — more than double the $104 million that officials discussed before voters approved extensions of taxes on car rentals and hotel stays for the project in November 2015.
Setting a value on Colorado Convention Center naming rights is complicated by its expansion plan. Without a projection of the total number of attendees over the next few years, Visit Denver would potentially be pitching inaccurately low numbers to corporate partners who are looking to plunk down huge amounts of money, Kitts said.
Regardless, Denver and the DCPA could easily net tens of millions of dollars from favorable deals, judging from similar contracts at metro-area sports and music venues.
Dick’s Sporting Goods paid $40 million for a 20year deal to name Kroenke’s 18,000-seat stadium and 24 practice fields in Commerce City in 2006. The deal struck by Ascent Entertainment Group, the builder of the Pepsi Center, and the soft drink maker was never confirmed publicly, but Sports Business Daily reported it at $66 million — set to expire in 2019.
In November, the Denver Broncos hired Los Angeles-based sports marketing firm WME-IMG to help find a naming-rights partner for the Mile High stadium, which still bears the logo for failed sporting goods chain Sports Authority. Team officials have said the 16-year-old, publicly owned stadium would probably require about $300 million in upkeep over the next 30 years. They could use a big naming-rights deal to keep from asking taxpayers to fund the maintenance.
Sports Authority assumed the remainder of a $120 million Mile High naming-rights agreement abandoned by Invesco Ltd. in 2011. Any new corporate logo on the stadium would be its third since 2001.
The Broncos example offers a lesson in public perception about naming rights, since many fans have continued calling the venue Mile High Stadium — the proper name of the previous stadium — over the years, despite its corporate branding.
“I have a memo somewhere in my files from (DCPA founder) Donald Seawell saying ‘Over my dead body,’ ” said Suzanne Yoe, director of communications for the DCPA, regarding the potential corporate naming of theaters in the Bonfils complex.
In an email, she added: “His sentiment was that the (DCPA) was intended for the people of Denver, that all should feel welcome and included.”
Seawell died in 2015 at the age of 103.
Replacing the names on beloved venues in the Bonfils theater complex is still a ways off, however, as is a corporate sponsor for the arts complex or the convention center.
“We’re in hold mode,” Kitts said. “Once (the Next Stage plan is) clarified, we’d go to market with a search for someone wanting those types of opportunities. … We just don’t have enough info to build on — yet.”