ST. LOUIS • The proposed riverfront football stadium, though little more than dirt, derelict warehouse and architectural designs, now has a $158 million name:
National Car Rental Field.
Late Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon’s stadium task force and Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of National Car Rental, revealed a 20-year deal worth an average of $7.9 million a year.
It is unclear exactly how the money will be used. The state of Missouri or city of St. Louis could pledge the annual proceeds to a bond measure, providing a large chunk of cash for stadium construction. Or it could go to team owners as a sort of guaranteed revenue.
The task force has long said that a stadium won’t be built without a team’s commitment. Naming rights proceeds would have to be negotiated with team owners.
Still, the agreement has arrived before many anticipated, and — regardless of who pockets the cash — it provides a significant revenue source for the $1 billion stadium. Regional leaders here expect it could be an enticing carrot for a team owner seeking to defray his own portion of stadium construction costs.
They also hope the timing of the news sends a message to the National Football League owners — gathered this week in New York — of consistent progress toward a finished stadium plan.
“It is one of the top naming rights deals in the league,” task force co-chairman and former Anheuser-Busch executive Dave Peacock told the Post-Dispatch. “It demonstrates just a portion of the business support for NFL football in St. Louis.”
It doesn’t mean the state or city will have to pay less for the stadium, Peacock emphasized. “It provides certainty around the project, more than anything,” he said.
The state has committed to paying $240 million toward the project. The city is expected to chip in $150 million. Bills outlining some details are expected to come before the city Board of Aldermen later this month.
Stadium attorneys have submitted draft bills, but city staff say they’re reworking them before sending them to the board.
Meanwhile, NFL owners have gathered in New York City this week to discuss moving a team to Los Angeles. St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has proposed a $2 billion stadium in Inglewood, just outside of L.A., and though he has said nothing publicly, he is no longer hiding his interest in moving the Rams. The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have mounted a competing campaign to build a two-team stadium in Carson, Calif., about 15 miles from Kroenke’s site.
The league owners’ Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities met late Tuesday behind closed doors at NFL offices in Manhattan. They were scheduled to discuss relocation timelines, relocation fees and stadium progress; staff was prepared to brief them on the two proposals in Los Angeles, and hometown efforts in Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis.
The full ownership meets on Wednesday. Owners have been heavily lobbied in recent weeks by competing stadium efforts. They are hoping, this week, to solidify facts and further develop feelings on wise moves for the league.
In St. Louis, Peacock and Edward Jones Dome attorney Robert Blitz continue to plan the 64,000-seat open-air stadium along the Mississippi River just north of downtown. The public board that owns the Jones Dome, which is paying the bills for the new stadium effort, has already spent more than $11 million in architects, engineers, attorneys, financial planners, real estate brokers and other contracted services.
The task force did not release the agreement with National. But it said the deal, a memorandum of understanding, includes interior and exterior signs featuring the National logo.
The new naming-rights agreement appears to be significantly more costly than the one at the Edward Jones Dome. The Edward Jones investment firm renewed its naming rights agreement at the Dome with the Rams a few years ago. That $42.3 million agreement for 11 years included the stadium name as well as indoor and outdoor advertising.
Before that, Edward Jones had an agreement for 12 years at a cost of $32.7 million. The company has said its deal, which runs until 2025, remained in effect only if the team is based at the Dome. Under terms originally set up with the now-defunct Trans World Airlines, the Rams get 75 percent of the naming-rights revenue at the Dome and the remaining 25 percent goes to the city’s Convention and Visitors Commission.
Patrick Farrell, Enterprise’s chief marketing officer, described the company’s decision as a no-brainer. Peacock came to the company a few months ago asking if it was interested in a less substantial sponsorship opportunity, Farrell said; the company called Peacock back asking about naming rights.
Farrell lauded the “high profile” visibility of such advertising and said NFL fans closely matched National’s target customer. Enterprise and Alamo, the company’s other brands, target different customers and were less appropriate for an NFL audience, he said.
Enterprise called National a “premium” brand that largely serves frequent airport travelers. The naming rights contract is just another investment Enterprise has made in the company, he said, since buying it in 2007. Enterprise has spent more than $200 million in five years on upgraded National facilities, cars and advertisements, he said, growing brand revenue by more than a third to $2 billion.
The naming rights deal is also another large local commitment from the family of Enterprise founder Jack Taylor.
In just the last few months, Taylor and his family have announced a $30 million donation to the nonprofit Forest Park Forever for upkeep and renovations of the city’s large central park, $10 million to the St. Louis Symphony’s endowment and $25 million to CityArchRiver, the foundation spearheading the $380 million renovation of the Gateway Arch grounds. In total, the Taylors have given more than $100 million to the Arch project alone.
The Arch grounds renovation and the stadium land, which is now largely vacant lots and empty warehouses, together bookend downtown’s north riverfront.
Farrell said Enterprise was approaching $20 billion in annual sales and wanted a vibrant city for its international headquarters.
“We need the city to be strong for us,” he said, “and us to be strong for the city.”