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01/11/08 1:45 PM EST
Indians find Progressive partner
Tribe agrees to naming rights deal with Cleveland insurer
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Say farewell to "The Jake" and hello to ... "The Prog," perhaps? Though the edifice is intact and the distinctive elements remain, Jacobs Field -- in appellation alone -- is no more. The ballpark on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario streets that has been home to the Tribe since 1994 shall now be known as Progressive Field, by virtue of a 16-year naming rights pact the Indians have made with Progressive Insurance. The agreement, announced Friday morning, calls for Progressive to pay an average of $3.6 million annually for the naming rights, which will expire in 2023 -- the same year the Indians' current lease agreement with the Gateway Economic Development Corporation runs out. Progressive is an automobile insurance company with Cleveland roots and headquarters. That hometown connection -- to say nothing of the big bucks being doled out -- appealed to the Indians. "Progressive was a company we identified early on [in the process] because of their world scope, the Cleveland base and, frankly, it was a great name," Indians president Paul Dolan said. "When something looks like it's going to fit, and it's a natural thing, it goes pretty well, and that's how this went." Still, it was an arrangement that took time to cement. The Indians had been seeking a naming-rights partner since the end of the 2006 season, when former owner Dick Jacobs' rights to the name expired. For the 2007 season, with attempts to lock down a deal with a naming-rights partner coming up flat, the club had the option of reverting to the ballpark's original, working title of Indians Park or retaining the Jacobs Field name that had become so familiar with fans. The team chose the latter option, and The Jake lived on for one last year. Late in the '07 season, the Tribe partnered with locally based talent agency IMG in the hope of speeding up the search for a naming-rights buyer. The club had made efforts to reach an agreement with National City Bank and Key Bank, among others, to no avail. Progressive, which will now also hold sponsorship rights as the official auto insurer of the team, had long been in the picture, but only recently did the conversations get serious. The name Progressive Park was bandied about, until it was discovered that name already belongs to an outdoor picnic facility in Iowa. So, Progressive Field it is. "We are very excited," said Progressive president and CEO Glenn Renwick, "about getting exposure to an estimated 120 million baseball fans around the nation, the exposure we'll get on national television, and, clearly, the support in the local community will be enhanced by this arrangement." Of course, completing this arrangement less than three months before Opening Day creates a scramble situation. The Indians must replace nearly 1,000 pieces of ballpark signage that include reference to Jacobs Field. The cost of the replacement will be roughly $1.2 million -- a figure that comes out of the Tribe's net earnings from the deal. "We're not going to have everything done by Opening Day," Dolan said. "There are some signs we just can't transition in time." But the signature sign at the Carnegie and Ontario entrance will be completed by March 31, as will a new sign that will be affixed atop the script Indians logo above the main scoreboard. The Indians anticipate having all the signage swaps completed by the All-Star break. While the corporate naming of public space has become commonplace in today's sporting society, this is the first time the home of the Indians will carry a corporate title. The Indians did make attempts to get Jacobs to renew his rights to the name. "We had some discussions along those lines," Dolan said. "But it's a difficult proposition for him, because he doesn't have the commercial motivation. There is an emotional attachment to the name, but our duty is to put the best team possible on the field." Dolan laughed when asked if the $3.6 million per year will go directly into the pocket of staff ace C.C. Sabathia, who is eligible for free agency after the '08 season. But he did say the money would go into the club's general fund, meaning that it will assist with the funding of player payroll, ballpark upkeep and player development. With the new name will come the inevitable uproar from fans, who would rather see the ballpark maintain its familiar moniker. To that, Dolan urges people to give Progressive Field -- or "The Prog" or "The Pro" or whatever fans choose to call it -- a chance. "The name Jacobs Field, in 14 relatively short years, has ingrained itself into the fabric of the community," Dolan said. "In due time, Progressive Field will have that same place in our collective psyche. Maybe it will take the next generation of kids who only know it as Progressive Field. It won't happen overnight. But, I think Progressive Field will mean to this community every bit what Jacobs Field means now."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.