AllState to be new Sugar Bowl sponsor

Updated: March 22, 2006, 8:17 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- At a time when the insurance industry is under heavy criticism for its slow and often contentious dealings with Hurricane Katrina victims, one of the nation's largest insurance companies has become the title sponsor of this city's best known annual sporting event.

AllState will be the new title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl for at least the next four college football seasons, officials announced Wednesday.

"It's clear to everyone that the world is watching this region, and as it continues to rebuild, a lot of companies have to step up and say they're going to make a long-term commitment to this area," Allstate Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi said.

The Sugar Bowl, which brings an estimated $300 million in economic activity to New Orleans, had to be moved to Atlanta last January because of storm-related damage to both New Orleans hotels and the Louisiana Superdome.

However, many hotels have since reopened, the dome is expected to be repaired in time for the coming football season and Sugar Bowl officials already have returned to temporary offices a few miles away from their old ones inside the Superdome.

Nokia has been the title sponsor of the game the past 12 seasons, but its contract runs out this spring. Officials with the Sugar Bowl and AllState declined to discuss financial details of their deal, other than to say it was well into the seven-figure range.

Sugar Bowl chief executive officer Paul Hoolahan said he was impressed by AllState's willingness to work with the Sugar Bowl in the face of so much ill-will locally toward the insurance industry.

"A lot of people would be ducking to go up on that stage with some of the issues that local people are having with their own insurance companies," Hoolahan said. "These folks are willing to come up and basically take a stand, go up on the podium and say, 'We're here to help, and we want to be a part of the recovery.' … And that to me takes guts and courage and I think it's a good sign."

Tripodi said that while AllState is not perfect and may have some frustrated customers in the region, the company has settled 90 percent of its claims, paying out about $3 billion in Louisiana since Katrina.

"There'll probably be some detractors. ... It probably is a little difficult for people to see it, but it really is about us trying to show our long-term commitment to the area," Tripodi said. "New Orleans is a very important city in America. It's a city that cannot be abandoned by this country."

Hoolahan said the deal was critical to keeping the Sugar Bowl in the high-profile Bowl Championship Series, in which payouts to participants are growing astronomically.

Hoolahan said he expected payouts to next year's participants to exceed $13 million.

"It's getting very competitive to stay in the top tier," he said, adding that ticket prices likely would have to go up.

The last time the game was in New Orleans, prices ranged from $85 to $105. Hoolahan said prices for premium seats next year could be as high as $125 or $150, with lower prices in upper sections of the stadium.

Dignitaries invited to attend the announcement included Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who will be Nagin's competitor in April's mayoral elections here. They were placed side-by-side on the podium and were invited to speak, one after the other.

The shook hands, smiled and both kept their comments brief, largely avoiding politics.

"Basically it sends a message to the world that we're alive and well," Landrieu said of the Sugar Bowl announcement, which came less than a month after the conclusion of a successful Mardi Gras celebration. "It continues to send the message to people that we can stand up [and host] major cultural and sporting events."

Nagin called the bowl game announcement "just one of many that seem to be coming for New Orleans."

"Louisiana has gone through a lot, but now we're in a position where we're starting to see some momentum and flow," Nagin said. "We are hitting somewhat of a tipping point, if you will, and I look forward to the future in New Orleans."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press