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EnergySolutions Arena — Former Envirocare provides new name for Delta Center

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Goodbye, Delta Center. Hello, EnergySolutions Arena.

With an embattled Delta Air Lines struggling to emerge from bankruptcy and facing the prospect of a hostile takeover by US Airways, the Utah Jazz on Monday dropped the Delta Center name from its building, covering it with banners announcing the new name of EnergySolutions Arena.

EnergySolutions is a Salt Lake-based company, formerly known as Envirocare, that disposes of low-level radioactive and hazardous waste in Tooele County.

Financial terms of the 10-year naming rights deal were not disclosed, but such deals for professional sports stadiums typically involve millions of dollars annually. Delta Air Lines reportedly paid $20 million to $25 million total for the first 10 years of its contract.

A small crowd of EnergySolutions and Jazz employees on Monday cheered the announcement as the new name was unveiled inside the arena. But on the street, public reaction was less enthusiastic.

Olivia Egbert, a Salt Lake resident, said the name change was unfortunate.

"From now on when people think about the Utah Jazz they will be thinking about nuclear waste," Egbert said. "EnergySolutions isn't something I really want to correlate with Jazz basketball."

Brittney Erickson of North Salt Lake was bewildered at seeing the new name Monday on the outside of the building as she purchased Jazz tickets.

"I think the Delta Center sounds better than 'EnergySolutions Arena,"' said Erickson, who added that she would continue to refer to the building as the Delta Center. "I think that most people still will."

Dennis Haslam, president of Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment, said it was important for the team to have a naming-rights partner that was a Utah-based company.

Haslam said several other companies were considered. EnergySolutions was not the first pick, but Haslam declined to say what other companies were contenders.

"This is a partnership we have been working on for some time," Haslam said. "EnergySolutions has the same kinds of ideals that we have. It's a very innovative company and progressive."

The name change brought a quick response from environmental groups.

Vanessa Pierce, director of HEAL Utah, a Salt Lake organization opposed to nuclear power and toxic waste, said the group has fought efforts by EnergySolutions to expand.

"From a sports angle it's no score for Utah, it's a foul," Pierce said. "Branding our state's sports complex with the name of a massive nuclear waste dump isn't the PR that we want for Utah.

"EnergySolutions' bottom line is tied to bringing in other states' nuclear waste and dumping it in our back yard. This isn't the type of business we should be promoting in Utah."

The Utah Jazz have played under the Delta name since 1991, when the arena was completed. When Delta Air Lines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2005, the airline could have reneged on continuing to pay for its naming rights. Following a bankruptcy filing, money owed to creditors can go unpaid.

But Larry Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz, told the Deseret Morning News that throughout Delta's bankruptcy the airline has kept its financial commitments with the Jazz and did not currently owe the franchise any money.

"I think that the top levels within Delta would have liked to have continued the agreement," Miller said. "They had a pretty good deal as arena-naming rights go. It wasn't about the money. I really think that they were just focused on other things, which is natural when the company is fighting for its life in bankruptcy."

Delta's original 10-year agreement carried a five-year option. The Delta contract expired on Sept. 30.

Anthony L. Black, a spokesman with Delta, said the airline will continue to support the team. Delta has signed a five-year sponsorship agreement that involves a corporate suite and other marketing promotions.

Michael Cooper, associate professor of finance at the University of Utah, has published several studies on corporate name changes. Cooper said name changes that evoke a glamorous image "attract a lot more attention than they should."

During the late 1990s, companies that added "dot-com" to their name, even firms that were not Internet companies, saw their stock prices double, according to Cooper.

"If the name change tends to be something that's popular, it tends to be accepted quicker," said Cooper, who added that most Utahns probably have no idea what kind of business EnergySolutions operates. "People are upset because tradition has been broken with the old name and there's this new name. It's obviously hard to change tradition."

Stadium naming rights

Average annual name branding rights paid by companies:

FedEx Forum (Memphis Grizzlies) — $4.5 million, Federal Express

Pepsi Center (Denver Nuggets) — $3.4 million, PepsiCo.

Conseco Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers) — $2 million, Conseco

TD Waterhouse Centre (Orlando Magic) — $1.6 million, TD Waterhouse Group

Wachovia Center (Philadelphia 76ers) — $1.4 million, Wachovia Bank

KeyArena (Seattle Supersonics) — $1 million, Key Corp.

Arco Arena (Sacramento Kings) — $750,000, Atlantic Richfield

Source: ESPN

Contributing: Stephen Speckman

E-mail: danderton@desnews.com