Albertsons, it's your stadium: Boise State venue gets new name

ccripe@idahostatesman.comMay 22, 2014 

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin listened to the introduction of Albertsons CEO Bob Miller at Wednesday's press conference and knew his program held more than a monetary connection to the company that bought the naming-rights to the Broncos' stadium.

"I was thinking, 'This would be great for our team to be hearing this,' " Harsin said. "It's that success story of a guy who had an idea, a dream, a goal and kind of worked his way into it and … all of a sudden now we're connected."

Miller, who began his career as a "can stacker" at Albertsons, has revived one of Idaho's best-known companies — one that was broken up by a 2006 sale.

On Wednesday, Boise State announced that the grocery chain would pay $12.5 million over 15 years to rename the on-campus football venue Albertsons Stadium. The home of the famous blue turf was known as Bronco Stadium from its opening in 1970.

The State Board of Education will consider the contract in June.

"We're anxious to let people know we're here to stay," Miller said. "This is our corporate headquarters and it's going to be and this is a good way to reinforce that message — that this is our hometown."

Boise State had tried to sell naming rights to the stadium since at least 1997. President Bob Kustra, who arrived in 2003, rejected one potential name and heard discussions about a couple other companies.

None fit like Albertsons, he said.

Boise State was founded in 1932. Albertsons began in 1939 with a single store. Both have been transformed since — the school from a junior college to a university known nationwide for its football program; the grocer from a local success story to a splintered company and back again.

"This name, the Albertsons name, is so much a part of Boise and Idaho," Kustra said. "And then the comeback story — it's almost like athletics, the comeback kid. That's what this company is. It's perfect.

"… What they're doing for us at this time is going to keep this program competitive in the years to come and give Bryan Harsin a chance to win more football games."

The contract terms are similar to other college football naming-rights deals. California, Central Florida and Minnesota receive more. Minnesota gets $1.4 million per year but signed a 25-year contract.

Maryland, Rutgers and Texas Tech get less.

Two men who consult on naming-rights deals told the Idaho Statesman that Boise State got a good deal.

"It was a very strong number for the university," said E.J. Narcise, a principal and founding partner of Team Services in Rockville, Md. "They should be very proud of that. I'm sure for the Albertsons people, because of the strength of the brand, they will be able to far exceed what the return on investment is projected to be."

Boise State will receive $625,000 per year from Albertsons, which gets the stadium's best suite as part of the deal (a $52,000 value). The cash will help Boise State afford the expected transition to cost-of-attendance scholarships, which could cost the athletic department $687,000 per year.

"That's a difference-maker for our program and will help us address some of those concerns that are coming up in the future," Athletic Director Mark Coyle said.

Learfield Sports, which owns Boise State's marketing rights, gets the other 25 percent of the revenue, or $208,333 per year, Coyle said. Learfield gets that money even if its contract is not renewed when it expires in 2019-20. Learfield purchased a share of the Bronco Stadium naming rights as part of its $33.8 million contract that began in 2010-11.

"There are things that Learfield gives us that I don't think people think about," Kustra said. "But I always would like to minimize the amount that you have to hand over to somebody who really wasn't as directly involved in this as Mark Coyle was and as I was, but that's the nature of these relationships.

"Over the years, Learfield has served this university well when it comes to the connections we've made. They're able to reach out and find relationships for us that we can't."

Coyle was the point man on this deal, getting to know Miller and his son socially. They began conversations about the stadium naming rights in January and watched the Super Bowl together in February.

Miller at first inquired about Taco Bell Arena. The basketball venue was renamed in 2004 on a 15-year, $4 million deal ($266,667 per year).

"But (Coyle) talked about why don't you do something now and one thing led to another," Miller said.

Boise State settled on the price in part by looking at similar deals around the country, but they're difficult to compare. Former Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier wanted around $5 million for a similar deal in 2002.

Chris Allphin, a senior vice president at New York-based Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment, said the two biggest factors in the value of a college naming-rights deal are the TV coverage and market size.

Still, there's no formula.

"They're not sold at auction; they're sold through relationships," said Allphin, whose company consulted on the MetLife Stadium deal for the Giants and Jets of the NFL. "They usually take years. Everybody's got an asterisk by their deal."

Added Narcise: "Each of these are snowflakes. They are unique unto themselves."

The Albertsons logo will be placed in two locations on the field near the 25-yard lines, on the top of the Stueckle Sky Center inside the stadium, on the lower portion of the Sky Center on the outside and on the large banner outside the south end zone. The company will benefit from Boise State's unique TV deal, which gives ESPN the rights to each of its home games, and the partners' shared color blue doesn't hurt, either.

"It even makes it more unique to add Albertsons on top of (the blue turf). That gives it even more credibility, rather than just Bronco Stadium," Harsin said. "We know it as that, and that's a great brand for us as well and we like that but this, to me, makes it even more fitting for that uniqueness we have in the stadium."

Boise State, Albertsons and the Albertson family have a long history of collaboration. Most prominently, the Albertsons Library was renovated 20 years ago and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation provided a $3 million grant toward construction of the Bleymaier Football Center.

The new version of Albertsons that Miller heads - last year, the company purchased the Idaho stores that had gone to Supervalu in 2006 - includes several Boise State graduates on its executive team.

"At Albertsons, we've always had a history of giving back to the community that supports us, and education is one of the pillars we like to support," said Susan Morris, the president of the Intermountain Division of Albertsons. "That goes all the way back to Joe and Kathryn Albertson, who supported College of Idaho back in the day. So it's carrying on a tradition - carrying on Joe's legacy - which is very meaningful to us."

And at a time of intense competition for the grocery dollars in a town once dominated by Albertsons blue, this deal could help restore the brand's prominence.

"This is home for us," Morris said. "We're proud to be a part of Idaho. We want to help Idaho grow, and this is one of the ways we're going to do it."

"The first time we saw those pictures (of stadium renderings), I got goose bumps."

About Albertsons

Boise State last month named Albertsons CEO Bob Miller the inaugural winner of its Champion of Commerce Award. He spoke publicly at the award event, revealing that he hadn't been sure Albertsons would survive when Albertsons Inc., the chain that grew from Joe Albertson's first Boise grocery store, was broken up and sold off in 2006.

Back then, Albertsons Inc.'s best divisions — including all Idaho stores — were sold to Supervalu, based in Minnesota. Its weakest divisions, consisting of more than 600 stores, were bought by a consortium led by New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. That firm created a new Boise company, Albertsons LLC, and hired Miller to run it. Each chain kept the Albertsons name.

Albertsons LLC closed or sold most of the stores it bought in 2006. A struggling Supervalu put what remained of its Albertsons Inc. holdings up for sale in 2012, and the Cerberus-led consortium bought the Supervalu stores and put them under Miller's control as well.

Since then, Albertsons has made a play to grow. The ownership consortium decided to buy ailing supermarket giant Safeway and put it under the control of Boise-based Albertsons.

Albertsons has 32 stores in Idaho, a distribution center on Eagle Road and the corporate headquarters on ParkCenter.

Boise Open is safe

The Albertsons Boise Open will not be affected by the grocer's deal with Boise State, company officials said Wednesday. Albertsons is the original sponsor of the Web.com Tour event, which began in 1990. The most recent contract runs through 2016. "Hopefully it goes on beyond that," said Susan Morris, the president of the Intermountain Division for Albertsons.

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