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RFK Sponsorship to Aid Kids

Ethel Kennedy Backs Plan to Sell Stadium Naming Rights

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page B02

District officials are seeking a company to pay up to $2 million per year to be a sponsor of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for Washington Nationals games, an arrangement that could alter the building's name for the first time since 1969.

The naming rights would last until 2008, when the Nationals move to a new stadium, said Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which operates RFK. The majority of revenue generated from the deal will go toward improving the city's youth recreation centers and athletic fields, he said.

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If a sponsor is found, the stadium would still be called RFK and the corporation's name would be added. An example of such an arrangement is the Denver Broncos' Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) spoke to Kennedy's widow, who gave the arrangement her blessing, officials said.

"He did speak to Ethel and talked about how most of the money is to benefit kids," mayoral spokeswoman Sharon Gang said. "The Kennedys approve of that. . . . It's an opportunity to get more resources for kids, which is a huge part of why we wanted to get baseball here."

The sports commission hopes to close the deal, which was first reported in yesterday's editions of the Washington Times, by the time the Nationals play their first home game April 14.

The commission has placed ads directing interested companies to present bids by Monday that maintain "the stadium's historically significant identity as a Robert F. Kennedy Memorial." In return for its payment, a sponsor would get advertising space inside and outside the stadium.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he has seen documents with markups of the stadium with Verizon's name as the corporate sponsor. He said Citibank also has been mentioned as a potential sponsor.

"It's a good idea," he said.

Eric Rabe, a Verizon spokesman, said yesterday that he did not know of any negotiations with the city over naming rights. A spokeswoman for Citigroup, which operates Citibank, declined to comment yesterday.

RFK was known as D.C. Stadium when it opened in 1961 and was renamed for Kennedy eight years later by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. The stadium has kept the name through seasons with the Senators, Redskins, D.C. United and Washington Freedom.

Williams said at a news conference several weeks ago that the city would seek to maintain the Kennedy legacy at RFK and even at a proposed stadium along the Anacostia River in Ward 6. Tuohey said yesterday that some of the youth fields that would be created with sponsorship money also might bear Kennedy's name.

"It's a win-win," Tuohey said. "It's important to the city, to the kids, to have new fields and fulfill our mission as the commission. And it's important to keep the Kennedy legacy. It is a unique opportunity. Mrs. Kennedy has blessed it, and we're moving forward with proposals."

Ethel Kennedy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Nationals, owned by Major League Baseball, have rights to some advertising space inside RFK, and the team will receive all revenue from the sale of naming rights to the new stadium, which is expected to fetch about $4 million a season.

Tuohey and Gang said the Nationals have been supportive of the city seeking revenue from corporate sponsorship of RFK.

"The choice of sponsor will have to be consistent with the Kennedy legacy," Gang said. The Kennedy family, she added, "will have some input."

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