U pursues stadium donors

Than Tibbetts

Ask University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg how to treat a potential stadium donor, and he can answer in two words.

“Very carefully.”

Time might be running short for University officials working to secure a corporate naming partner and more commitments for stadium donations.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he will reintroduce an on-campus stadium bill in the Senate during the first week of the legislative session, beginning Jan. 4. Michel said this does not mean it will be heard or acted on.

If and when the bill is heard, the University will need to have something to show for its share of the proposed $222 million project, University officials said. That’s where major corporate donors come into play.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he is looking for a company that will fit in philosophically with Gophers athletics in scouting for a stadium partnership.

He also said a Minnesota company backing the multimillion-dollar facility would be beneficial.

And, perhaps most importantly, Maturi said he looks at the company’s ability to contribute “significant dollars” to the stadium campaign.

Purchasing naming rights for facilities such as stadiums allows corporations to be continually exposed to the public, said Michael Houston, a marketing and logistics management professor in the Carlson School of Management.

“Xcel Energy is a great example of a company that touches a lot of people, but (having its name on the St. Paul hockey arena) adds a dimension to the corporate image that gives it a community presence,” he said.

Courting donors

Maturi briefly outlined strategies used when dealing with prospective stadium donors.

“With an individual donor, it’s more of a philanthropic thing. We’re tugging at the heart and emotional things,” he said.

“If it’s a corporation, it’s far more a business decision. You just don’t get to throw around the corporation’s money without answering to people.”

Rotenberg said he could not comment on the specifics of a potential stadium donation, because the discussions are confidential.

“As a general matter, we are soliciting interest in a stadium project from a variety of sources,” he said.

He said the University Foundation is also involved in developing prospective stadium donors.

Rotenberg said different University officials meet with donors depending on the circumstances.

“It depends on who’s most comfortable to meet with the prospective parties,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s the athletics director and his staff; sometimes people in the foundation.”

Maturi said University officials are still in the process of finding a corporate stadium donor, meeting with them one at a time.

He said he has not met with “very many” corporations.

“And that’s the good news,” he said. “We’ve been very well received.”

Getting the deal done

Maturi drew an important distinction between individual and corporate naming rights.

The corporate naming rights will not be permanent, he said, possibly resulting in a renewable source of income for the University. If an individual were to purchase naming rights, the agreement would most likely be permanent, he said.

Rotenberg said his office develops the documents and negotiates appropriate terms for sponsorships relating to the stadium project.

“When we’re talking about a stadium project of this size, individuals and corporations that are interested in being associated with the stadium have certain expectations for their funds and for their identity – for their name,” Rotenberg said.

He said that sometimes, stadium gifts are not actual gifts.

“You could call it ‘financial support’ given in exchange for commitments by the University,” he said.