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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Nameless stadium awaits proper partner
Houston's Astros Field
The ballpark has been temporarily renamed Astros Field
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David Schepp
BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter

In an era when corporate-naming rights have ushered in sports facilities in the US bearing such monikers as 'Pepsi Center' and 'Bank One Ballpark', Houston's baseball facility has regained a simpler name.

When the stadium was opened in 2000 it was named Enron Field, following a sponsorship deal with the now disgraced energy-giant.

But since successfully battling Enron to remove the name from the building's exterior in February, the Astros have met with several potential sponsorship candidates - without success.

They have included tech-giant Hewlett-Packard, oil-firm Conoco, a local furniture outlet and a restaurant chain.

Now known simply as Astros Field, in honour of Houston's hometown baseball team, officials have yet to find a new customer willing to pay the $4m a year the team seeks for the right to associate a corporate name with the two-year-old Houston landmark.

'Mattress Mack'

Enron paid the Houston Astros $100m to put its name on the 40,000-seat facility for 30 years.

Engraved bricks outside Houston's Astros Field
Houstonians paid $100 each to have a brick named after them...
In the court settlement, the Astros agreed to pay Enron $2.1m to remove its name from the ballpark. The baseball team feared Enron's collapse would taint the baseball franchise's reputation.

Since then, the Astros baseball team has held discussions with as many as 10 different firms in the hopes of getting someone to sign on to the $112m deal, which would give the winner naming rights for the next 28 years.

Among those is a local furniture retailer, Jim McIngvale, who owns Gallery Furniture, a sprawling home-furnishings warehouse on Houston's north side.

Ken and Linda Lay's brick outside Houston's Astros Field
... including former Enron CEO Ken Lay and his wife
A local fixture, Mr McIngvale appears regularly in television commercials in Houston, where he is known as "Mattress Mack".

Mr McIngvale is not likely to win the rights. He has said he cannot afford the asking price, and Astros officials have expressed a desire for a firm with global recognition.

But given that Houston officials were even considering his offer speaks to the seemingly desperate nature of the negotiations.

A chosen few

Still, given their stinging experience with Enron, Astros officials are a bit gun shy of signing on with just anyone.

More important than the proper image a corporate sponsor might lend to the stadium and the team is the ability of company to maintain a long-term commitment to the team.

Houston street sign
"Enron" still adorns Houston street signs
Such a suitor might have come in the form of heretofore Houston-based Compaq Computer. But its merger with Hewlett-Packard means the firm is no longer Houston based, which the Astros view as a boon for any potential partner.

"It's certainly advantage to have a local partner," says Pam Gardner, president of business operations for the Astros. "We like it because of the partnerships and teamwork."

Last week, the Astros efforts last week were dealt a blow after Silicon Valley-based H-P dropped its bid to put its name on the stadium, saying the timing for the deal was not right.

The Astros have remained guarded about the final candidates seeking to line up with Houston's baseball team, acknowledging only that they have winnowed it down to a handful of firms.

Still, the team had hoped to have named someone by late April - less than a month after it sponged off any remainder of Enron.

The sports facility has acted much more quickly than the city of Houston, whose streets signs and maps still refer to the park as Enron Field.

The BBC's Alison Gee in Houston
"There are rumours here that potential sponsors include Conoco Phillips and... Compaq"
See also:

05 Feb 02 | Business
Houston seek Enron exit
07 May 02 | Business
The great Enron sell-off
09 Feb 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Betrayed by Enron
15 Jan 02 | Business
Enron: Key figures
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