Investing Firm Close to Deal on Renaming RFK

By Thomas Heath and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 4, 2005

A Bethesda-based investment firm is nearing an agreement for the naming rights to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium after a deal with the National Guard foundered last month, sources familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.

ProFunds Advisors would pay more than $5 million over three years under terms of a tentative deal with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which runs the stadium, the sources said. The new name of the stadium would be ProFunds Field at RFK.

The commission began seeking a sponsor in March and plans to use money from the sponsorship to improve youth recreation facilities in the city.

The deal could also include a sponsorship payment to the Washington Nationals in exchange for additional marketing opportunities, the sources said.

Spokesmen for the sports commission and ProFunds declined to comment yesterday. Commission Chairman Mark H. Tuohey, who has led the naming rights negotiations, did not respond to messages left at his office.

The negotiations with ProFunds have heated up since a similar three-year, $6.6 million deal between the sports commission, the Nationals and the National Guard fell through last month, after objections were raised by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.).

Warner and Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who oversees the Guard, said it was inappropriate for a branch of the country's armed forces to pay to put its name on a stadium because such a move would send the wrong message.

Blum said the Guard, which has a healthy advertising and marketing budget, should more wisely spend its money to increase recruitment, which has been declining, and to fund retention bonuses and buy improved equipment for troops overseas.

However, the Guard has continued to talk with the commission about possibly paying to put recruiting booths in the stadium during games, said Guard spokesman Mark Allen.

"The discussions continue, but we won't negotiate through the media," Allen said.

Yesterday, a modest-sized National Guard recruiting banner hung on a fence outside the D.C. Armory, across the street from RFK at the Stadium-Armory Metro station's main entrance.

The commission had considered naming the stadium Armed Forces Field at RFK as a way to honor the military.

ProFunds, founded in 1997, runs 49 mutual funds that seek to mirror, magnify or invert the performance of various markets through indexing, according to the company's Web site. The private company has about 60 employees, according to Dun & Bradstreet Inc.

The sports commission has been seeking a sponsor to pay $1 million to $2 million per season for the three seasons that the Nationals are playing at RFK, which seats about 45,000 baseball fans.

Sponsors typically pay $4 million to $5 million a year to put their name on a new stadium. The city might have commanded more for the naming rights, but the first month of the season has passed, including a widely celebrated home opener at which President Bush threw out the first pitch.

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

At a news conference this year, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said the city would seek to maintain the Kennedy legacy at RFK and at a proposed stadium along the Anacostia River in Ward 6. The sports commission has said that some of the youth fields that would be created with sponsorship money also might bear Kennedy's name.

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