NEW ORLEANS — The home of the New Orleans Saints and site of six Super Bowls will be renamed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome under a deal with the German automaker, the team and company said Tuesday.
The deal will allow Mercedes-Benz USA to have its name associated with championships in college and pro football and men's college basketball over the next 16 months. The stadium has also hosted a Republican presidential convention and a visit from the pope, and once served as refuge for thousands of miserable victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said Mercedes-Benz USA is signing on for a 10-year naming-rights agreement, with terms of the deal to be made public Tuesday afternoon. The team holds authority to sell naming rights to the state-owned stadium through their lease on the 73,000-seat stadium. The team's lease runs through 2025.
"The joining of the Mercedes-Benz brand with the world-class Saints organization and the Superdome, an iconic destination which has undergone an incredible transformation over the past six years, is a significant moment for us, the City of New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana," said Ernst Lieb, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, in a prepared statement.
Mercedes-Benz also owns naming rights to arenas in Shanghai and in Stuttgart, Germany.
Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor who studies sports economics, said the economy has made the sale of naming rights difficult lately. He said that the British bank Barclays paid less than expected in 2007 for naming rights for the Brooklyn arena that will house the NBA's Nets, as did the MetLife insurance company in a deal this summer for naming rights to the New Jersey stadium where the Jets and Giants play football. He also cited the fact that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has yet to sell naming rights for his stadium that opened in June of 2009.
"It's been a very difficult time to sell naming rights," Zimbalist said on Tuesday.
The Superdome opened in 1975. It has gone through many renovations, including a massive rebuild after Katrina ripped off its roof when the storm struck in August 2005.
Used as a refuge after Katrina, the Superdome was considered a total loss by some lawmakers, who debated if it was worth restoring after the 2005 storm. The roof had been torn off and the building flooded. Evacuees filled the building, stewing in the heat without lights, air conditioning or working bathrooms, a scene that epitomized the chaos of the disaster.
The stadium reopened for the 2006 Saints season as the first part of a multiphase $336 million renovation project paid for by the state that was completed this past summer. Since the storm workers have replaced, refurbished and added seats; created new club facilities and luxury suites; and installed new video systems and scoreboards. The Saints' locker room was also expanded to twice its old size. The exterior has also been refurbished.
"Having big upcoming events is attractive to those wanting naming rights," Zimbalist said. "But as strange as it sounds, the role the Superdome had during Katrina and the attention it drew probably turned out to be a positive.
Upcoming events are expected to attract an affluent demographic targeted by the automaker that's owned by German-based Daimler AG. The Sugar Bowl and BCS college football championship are scheduled in January 2012, followed by the NCAA's men's Final Four basketball championships in April 2012 and the Super Bowl in 2013.
The stadium was the site of a 1987 visit by Pope John Paul II and the 1988 Republican National Convention, at which George H.W. Bush was nominated for president. The stadium was also home to the New Orleans Jazz until the franchise moved to Salt Lake City in the late 1970s.
Built at the edge of the New Orleans business district, the stadium has a place in local lore, which holds it was built on the site of a former cemetery. In voodoo-conscious New Orleans, some speculated that was one reason why the Saints didn't have a winning record from their first season in 1967 until 1987. Their break-out season came after Pope John Paul II celebrated mass before thousands on the stadium floor.
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