As District officials search for a sponsor for Washington Nationals games at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, talk has turned to one organization that is not a traditional corporate advertiser: the U.S. Army.
The Army's potential interest came up during a lunch last week between Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, and D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5).
NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek steers a U.S. Army-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo around the track during practice for the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 on March 12 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
(Rusty Jarrett -- Getty Images)
According to Orange, Tuohey said the Army might be willing to pay an average of about $1.4 million per season to become the primary sponsor for the three years the Nationals play at RFK.
"He said the Army was trying to raise their profile," Orange said yesterday.
Tony Tavares, president of the Nationals, said he has heard of similar discussions about the Army. And an official in the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said the Army was interested in sponsorship as a recruiting tool because of the large number of young people who would watch the sport.
"Their numbers are down," said the administration official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because no sponsor has been found. "This would target the same demographic, in that people watching baseball might be the same people who would have interest in the military."
District officials are seeking a sponsor to pay up to $2 million a season for naming rights to RFK's field. The stadium would keep the Kennedy name but add the corporate sponsor in a way similar to the Denver Broncos' "Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium." The revenue from the naming rights would go toward youth programs in the city, including renovating athletic fields and community centers.
Before the city began seeking a sponsor, Williams spoke to Kennedy's widow, Ethel, who gave the arrangement her blessing, officials said.
A mayoral spokeswoman said that the choice of a sponsor must be consistent with the Kennedy legacy and that the Kennedy family "will have some input."
Over the past several years, the Army has increased its advertising budget to $212 million a year, according to published reports, and entered the sports sponsorship game with NASCAR auto racing, high school football and even professional rodeo. The Army's longtime slogan, "Be All You Can Be," was abandoned in favor of more contemporary advertising campaigns.
The sports commission had set a deadline of this past Monday for sponsorship offers but has extended that indefinitely because no written offers have been submitted, according to Tuohey.
Contacted yesterday, an Army spokesman said the organization was aware of the sponsorship talks but was not intending to pursue a deal "at this time."
Tuohey declined to elaborate on his discussions with Orange or whether he had negotiated with the Army.
"We've had preliminary discussions of interest from four or five companies but no specific expression," he said. "Right now, nothing is on the table.''
Tuohey added that the expressions of interest have come through a variety of methods.
Some companies have contacted the sports commission directly, while other names have come up through intermediaries representing them.
"We told everyone, 'Put it in writing and we'll deal with everyone in a fair evaluation,' " Tuohey said.
When Tuohey discussed the Army as a potential sponsor, Orange said he responded by noting that Robert Kennedy had served in a different branch of the armed forces.
"I said, 'Why not the Navy?' " Orange said. "Tuohey said he might even go back and inquire of them."