Qwest Communications gets naming rights

Updated: June 2, 2004, 6:04 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SEATTLE -- Seahawks Stadium will now be Qwest Field.

Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver announced Wednesday that it's buying the naming rights to the football stadium, which has operated without a corporate sponsor since it was completed in 2002.

Terms of the agreement were not immediately revealed, pending approval from the state Public Stadium Authority.

However, the deal is believed to be worth between $75 million and $80 million over 15 years, a source with knowledge of the transaction told ESPN.com.

"We need to compete both on and off the field," Seahawks Chief Executive Tod Leiweke said Wednesday. "Most all other NFL stadiums have entered into this kind of partnership. ... We knew we needed to get this done, it was just a matter of when and who."

The agreement was brokered by The Bonham Group of Denver, a sports marketing company that specializes in naming rights contracts. Leiweke said initial talks began in November and escalated following the conclusion of the NFL season, including meeting with Qwest Chairman and CEO Dick Notebaert in Denver.

A source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer the Seahawks Stadium deal is of shorter duration and "much bigger than" a $40 million deal for naming rights at Safeco Field, the neighboring Seattle Mariners baseball stadium, which has a retractable roof.

In 1998 Safeco Insurance Co. agreed to pay about $1.8 million a year, adjusted annually for inflation over the 20-year life of the contract.

Both stadiums were built south of downtown and west of Interstates 5 and 90 with substantial public financing.

Leiweke said the deal is comparable with other venues and markets.

The partnership deal goes beyond signs and naming rights for the 67,000-seat stadium.

Qwest will become the telecommunications supplier to Qwest Field and all other Seahawks facilities, as well as to First and Goal, the stadium and exhibition center's operator.

The 67,000-seat, open-air stadium occupies the site of the Kingdome, which was demolished in 2000, after serving as home for both pro teams from their inception in the mid-1970s.

Of the initial $460 million cost, $300 million was provided by the state and $160 million by Seahawks owner Paul Allen. Money from the Qwest sponsorship will go to a maintenance and modernization fund, which is now funded by Allen.

The move comes as Qwest is trying to find its niche in a competitive telecommunications market. Last month Qwest reported a $310 million loss in the company's first quarter, reflecting continuing financial and customer service problems over the company's 14-state service area.

Qwest also has been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department for questions about its accounting practices and deals with vendors. It was forced to restate earnings for 2000 and 2001, erasing $2.5 billion of revenue in the process.

Asked about the company's financial troubles and whether it could afford the naming agreement, Kirk Nelson, Qwest's president for Washington state, said: "We're on the right track. We're in a highly competitive market and you need to do something like this to get the brand out there."

In Washington, where Qwest has about 2.5 million customer lines and 5,000 employees, the company has been at odds with the state attorney general's office over an attempt to end an agreement under which the company has had to pay annual fines for poor service.

The company has about 25 million customers, including cellular telephone, long distance and DSL users, and about 45,800 employees worldwide.

The Seahawks are coming off a 10-6 season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. Seattle lost to Green Bay in the NFC Wild Card playoff game.

"It's all excitement right now about the direction the team is going and the direction the organization is going," said Seahawks' quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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