Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alpine Bank Field at Suplizio Corner

During a recent visit to Omaha, one thing I noticed was a whole lot of construction going on in the downtown area. What's being built is a new stadium for the Creighton University baseball team. While that will be its primary use, what it will be most known for is replacing Rosenblatt Stadium as the annual location of the NCAA Division I College World Series.

With this in mind, I thought it very interesting when I read in today's Sentinel about the Chairman of the JUCO Committee approaching Grand Junction City Council about ways to secure funds to do an extensive remodel of city-owned Suplizio Field, long-time home of the NJCAA Division I College World Series.

While Council did a predictable thing when it comes to JUCO - put their moral support behind the remodel project, wonder aloud where the money will come from, and assign staff to research possible funding options - my recent travel, memory of some of the history involving the facility, and some rudimentary web surfing is steering me to some sort of logical conclusion as to where all of this simultaneous glad-handing and hand-wringing is leading to.

Did I mention that Omaha's new stadium has been named TD Ameritrade Park?

It's interesting that Jamie Hamilton, JUCO Committee Chair and CEO of Home Loan State Bank, approached council with a need for additional funding, and apparently did not mention the sale of naming rights as a possible funding source. Nor did the Sentinel, in their editorial supporting the project.

This concept isn't new to JUCO - the tournament itself has borne Alpine Bank's name for several years now - and in the past I've lamented about the manner in which advertising space and time is sold to place a brand-name label on just about every significant thing involved with the games and the operation of the tournament.

With this history, It just seems strange that Mr. Hamilton, and presumably many of the local leaders in business and government that also serve on the JUCO Committee, would treat the naming rights issue as something akin to an ace in the hole, or the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Perhaps this is just the beginning of a political dance to arrive at that exact conclusion- a corporate sponsor is the only thing that will allow for an expeditious remodel. You can see the dancing happening already, in the form of the knee-jerk comments to the Sentinel's story. Thus begins the justification to seek private funding - incredulous taxpayers, willing but resource-scarce entities such as the City and District 51, and corporate sponsors, especially an image-poor financial services sector, with the money to put forth.

This is especially important in light of the reported Memorandum of Understanding between the JUCO Committee and the NJCAA, which will extend Grand Junction's role as host city for 25 years with a remodeled ballpark, but only 3 years without.
Even though this sounds like a nice way for the NJCAA to say "put up or shut up", I guess that's how it's done in these circles. Strangely enough, the NCAA also made a 25-year commitment to the folks in Omaha when plans for their new stadium were finalized.

Should the naming rights strategy make its way from the back pocket of the JUCO committee to the forefront of actual discussions, there may still be some obstacles to obtaining a willing sponsor acceptable to the community at large, and their respective elected officials. The Sentinel editorial touched on it:
That’s a great idea, not just for JUCO, but for the community as a whole. With a more professional-style ballfield, the long-held local dream of one day attracting a minor league baseball team to Grand Junction might move closer to reality.
This brings up one big issue not related to financial matters, that being the City's reluctance, if not outright objection, to the sale of beer at the field, and at adjacent Stocker Stadium. Remember the Colorado Silver Bullets? They were interested in establishing Suplizio Field as a permanent home base, but it's hard to have a team sponsored by Coors Light when you can't enjoy a Coors Light at the ballpark.

Other issues that could impede a naming rights agreement are exactly who will have their name plastered on a city-owned facility. In the Omaha example, TD Ameritrade is a financial services firm. While I'm sure the "Ameritrade" moniker kind of fits with America's national pastime, it's important to remember the "TD" part - Toronto Dominion, a Canadian bank. Ameritrade isn't really an American company.

Also, the ballpark is currently named for the late Sam Suplizio. This could be the big reason that naming rights aren't being discussed, and perhaps that's for the best. If, however, a compromise can be reached to continue to honor the memory of Mr. Suplizio, while accomplishing the necessary name change to further the presence of JUCO in Grand Junction for the foreseeable future - think Invesco Field at Mile High - I don't think that Sam would mind.

Finally, corporate names can change, and as a result so can the names of facilities that the corporation has naming rights to. TD Ameritrade Park is being built not far from Omaha's indoor sports and concert facility and major convention venue, the Qwest Center. This facility may soon change its name if Qwest's acquisition by CenturyLink goes through.

As this year's JUCO tournament approaches, I understand how much of Grand Junction's community pride goes into the preparation and conduct of this event. Our local economy benefits greatly from those who travel here to attend or participate, and aside from the traffic there really isn't a lot of negative collateral impact to the community, especially in comparison to events like Country Jam.

Upgrading Suplizio Field to a facility worthy of first-class athletic events is a good idea. Regardless of the strategies that the City and the JUCO committee bring forth to accomplish the remodel, an open, public discussion of all potential options should be conducted. Bringing the proposal to an afternoon Council workshop - and appearing coy about what may be the most expedient way of accomplishing the goal - isn't the way to start.

Best wishes to the JUCO committee for a successful tournament and a bright future.

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