ST. LOUIS CORPORATE GIANTS TO ANTE UP MILLIONS

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The invisible ink in last week's deal to relocate the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis was millions of dollars in promised corporate sponsorship dollars, insiders say.

Months of negotiations were finally consummated when the National Football League owners voted 23-6 in favor of the move after hammering out complex agreements with the NFL, Rams and Fox.

But insiders say the key plays were made behind the scenes by several St. Louis-based Fortune 500 companies, which have guaranteed they will back the team's relocation with millions of dollars in sponsorships.

The plum among them: title sponsorship of the new $260 million domed stadium where the Rams will play their first St. Louis game Oct. 22. The cost of naming the new stadium is expected to exceed $50 million, likely setting a record for such sponsorships.

Sports consultancy Sports Corp., Chicago, is handling the stadium's title sponsorship sale on behalf of the joint ad agreement between the Rams and St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, and other local sponsorships inside and outside the stadium are also being negotiated.

No one doubts the Rams will get top dollar for the stadium's title sponsorship, as corporate interest in sponsoring stadiums is soaring, and opportunities are few and far between.

Sports marketing consultants say such sponsorships of sports facilities-and other relationships with teams including the licensing of team products-have been undervalued until recently.

United Airlines got "the deal of the century" by paying an estimated $20 million to sponsor Chicago's United Center for five years, with a 20-year option to renew, said one United executive. RCA/Thomson Consumer Electronics is also believed to have scored a coup by paying $10 million last year for the right to rename Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome the RCA Dome.

Most such stadium deals, including United's, are paid for from ad budgets.

Sports Corp. President Marc Ganis said "numerous" corporations have expressed strong interest in sponsoring the new Rams stadium. The sponsorship will go "well beyond just naming the stadium, to include extensive branding rights in connection with the facility," Mr. Ganis said.

Corporations eyeing the deal say such sponsorships are well worth the investment.

"Sports and events have become the ultimate environment for brand marketing, and long-term sponsorships are very sought-after," said Mike Goff, director of corporate sponsorships for Sprint, which is a heavy backer of the hometown teams of its Kansas City, Mo., headquarters.

Mr. Goff said a company headquartered in St. Louis "is most likely to benefit from such a sponsorship."

It was a group of 26 of the biggest corporations in St. Louis, called Civic Progress, that formed the core of corporate interest in drawing the Rams to St. Louis. They include Anheuser-Busch Cos., Monsanto Co., Ralston Purina Co., McDonnell Douglas Corp., Edison Bros., Emerson Electric and Boatman Banks.

For Fox Sports, the problem is that the Rams are exiting the nation's second-largest market for the 18th-largest, and that will alter the value of the network's original $1.58 billion NFL rights package, which still has three years to run.

Fox is pressing the issue with the NFL, which appears willing to deal, especially since it just received an increased relocation package from Rams management totaling roughly $46 million.

Restitution "could be in lots of different forms," said one Fox source. "There's just cash. There's a better schedule. You can extend the [four-year] contract.'

Thomas Tyrer, Los Angeles bureau chief at Electronic Media, contributed to this story.

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