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Nationals to sell naming rights for Nationals Park

Nationals Park. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Long interested in selling the naming rights to what locals now know well as “Nats Park,” the Washington Nationals now seem committed to doing so. The organization partnered with Major League Baseball Advanced Media and the consulting firm Korn Ferry to sell naming rights to Nationals Park, which has been so named since it opened in 2008.

The Nationals considered selling the stadium naming rights before the park opened, and the issue has been raised repeatedly since. In 2013, experts predicted a deal could earn the club between $10 million and $15 million per year. The Atlanta Braves recently signed a deal with SunTrust that will reportedly pay them roughly $250 million over the next 25 years to call their new Cobb County home “SunTrust Park.” In 2009, CitiBank agreed to pay the Mets around $400 million for 20 years of “CitiField.”

“We’re always interested to put a competitive product on the field, finding ways to do that, and growing revenue is part of that,” Nationals Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Valerie Camillo said. “This is a major revenue opportunity that was untapped by the team, when you look at overall picture of revenue growth potential.”

Camillo said that when the Nationals decided to “re-engage the market [for naming rights] in a concerted way,” they wanted to get the idea in front of non-traditional companies, the kind that might not normally consider naming a sporting venue. Korn Ferry helps many of its clients, Nationals among them, with executive search. Camillo said the team hopes the company’s network will help get its pitch in front of executives from such non-traditional sports buyers.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media entered the picture, Camillo said, when the Nationals began working with the league to research the market.

“We just started brainstorming to see if there’s a model for this, where the sum of our parts gets a better deal than the individual pieces,” Camillo said. Sports Business Journal first reported the Nationals had entered the partnership.

As of this season, 20 of the 30 MLB teams have sold naming rights to their stadiums, with most of the exceptions giving more weight to decades of tradition than the revenue boost naming rights could provide. The Nationals finished last season with MLB’s fifth-largest payroll, and begin this season with around $140 million committed. In the court of public opinion — and in actual courts — the team made the case that money lost to them in the murky dispute over MASN’s television rights hindered their ability to give competitive contract offers to top free agents.

Camillo said she could not comment on the MASN situation, which was still tied up in courts at last check, but that her job is to grow the team’s revenue in order to maintain a “competitive product on the field.”

“I was asked, what are the untapped revenue sources?” Camillo said. “Clearly, the MASN situation is an involved situation and it may not be an immediate revenue source, so what else out there is large and can make a significant impact? For us, naming rights really quickly go to the top of that list.”

Camillo said the Nationals would look for a long-term deal, “longer than any deal we have.” Over the last decade, teams have agreed to naming deals ranging from 10 to 30-plus years. Pushback may come from locals because, like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and more-storied parks before it, Nationals Park has begun to entrench itself in the local vernacular. Importantly, for example, the name features prominently in the introduction to the Netflix hit “House of Cards.” Still, of course, the park is not even a decade old.

“I think our fans want us to keep a competitive product on the field. I think they understand the business dynamics of baseball,” Camillo said. “I think they undertstand that buildings do take on corporate names as part of those objectives. They’ll see as equal a commitment as we’ve made so far to a competitive team. It’s not as if we’ll be maximizing revenue without a competitive product on the field. We’re doing what we can to keep the fans happy, and I think the predominant thing fans want is winning.”