It’s not a deal on the scale of the new arena in Brooklyn, where Barclays Bank shelled out $400 million over the next 20 years to put its name on that venue. But Mercer County Waterfront Park in Trenton has been around almost 20 years, so its name change will cause some stir around central New Jersey.
On Tuesday, November 13, the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, announced that the stadium will now be known as Arm & Hammer Park.
Church & Dwight, the parent company for the Arm & Hammer product line, has signed a 20-year deal with the Thunder. The company, based on North Harrison Street, is expected to move early next year to a new corporate headquarters at 100 Princeton South Corporate Center in in Ewing.
Arm & Hammer has been associated with the Thunder for years and will now expand its partnership with New Jersey’s longest running pro baseball team.
The name of Samuel J. Plumeri Sr., the late founder of the team, which was added to the official field logo in 1999, will continue. The full name is now Samuel J. Plumeri Sr. Field at Arm & Hammer Park.
The financial terms of the deal were not made available. But in 2001, Garden State Baseball, owners of the Thunder, sold the naming rights to the stadium of its sister club, the Lakewood BlueClaws, in a $4.5 million, 20-year deal with First Energy Corp.
And an unrelated venue, the former Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, became the Sun National Bank Center in 2009, in a seven-year, $2.1 million deal.
The Thunder franchise, with its history of drawing over 6 million fans in its 19 seasons, undoubtedly was able to command a somewhat more lucrative sum. And Church & Dwight, which announced a net income of $93.9 million for the third quarter of 2012, should be able to afford it.
“It’s not one of those mega-deals,” says James Craigie, chairman and CEO of Church & Dwight. “Our name will be on the scoreboard, in front of the stadium and several places around the park. I have a dream that one day we will have the Arm & Hammer Player of the Night.”
When the Thunder signed a new lease with Mercer County in 2008, expanding its contract through 2023, the naming rights to Waterfront Park were transferred to the team. Previously, those rights lay with the county, as they still do with the Sun National Bank Center.
“When we started thinking about whose name we wanted on this ballpark,” says Thunder president Joseph Finley, “we didn’t want just anybody; we didn’t want a dot.com or a beer company –– not that there’s anything wrong with those businesses. We wanted an iconic brand, a mom and apple pie, something that represents everything that’s good in the world. Here we are, the minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees –– couldn’t have a better major league affiliate. We preach family values, family entertainment, so it was important to us to have the right partner. I think we got that partner here in Church & Dwight.”
Back in 2008, the Thunder retained Front Row Marketing Services of Philadelphia to assist in the process. But that agreement ended about two years ago. The negotiations for this deal were all done in-house.
“It took a little over a year,” says Finley of the negotiations with Church & Dwight. “We were in no rush to find a partner; it had to be the right deal. Part of our partnership agreement with them involves a large charitable component for local-based charities.”
There was one fly in the ointment: at one point, there was a real chance that Church & Dwight might leave New Jersey.
“We were going to leave the state, move to Pennsylvania,” admits Craigie. “New Jersey wasn’t the most business-friendly state under (former Gov. Jon) Corzine. But Gov. Christie has been an incredible partner to us. Lt. Gov. Kim Gaudagno came to visit us and said ‘Give us a chance.’ They came through with new incentives. They changed the corporate tax structure, and put bills through the legislature that benefitted all New Jersey companies. I just sent a letter off to the governor thanking him. He kept over a thousand jobs in New Jersey by keeping my company here.”
Arm & Hammer, established in 1846, continues to be Church & Dwight’s flagship brand, with its line of personal care products, cleaning products, and pet care line. And, of course, its signature baking soda.
“We also sell the Trojan brand [of condoms], but we didn’t think it was appropriate for the ballpark,” jokes Craigie. “But can you honestly think of a better name for a ballpark than Arm & Hammer? It’s like back in 1846, they were thinking about this. We knew this would be a win-win for both organizations and the Trenton community. We value the Thunder relationship with the New York Yankees. The decision that the Yankees made to extend their partnership with the Thunder through 2022 demonstrates their commitment to this organization and provides the stability we were looking for.
And Church & Dwight and the Trenton Thunder both have a history of giving back to the community. A few things that Church & Dwight have done over the past few years: we’ve donated a million dollars to the new Princeton Hospital, we’ve given a million dollars in the past two years to food banks in New Jersey, in 2005 we established the Employee Giving Fund to provide our employees the chance to take a portion of their pay, which the company matches, and select charities in the community to give back to.
“Just two weeks ago, Church & Dwight donated a million dollars to American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The Thunder have been a very generous organization and supports many of the same groups we do, and working together, we provide greater public awareness and support of those causes.”
Public awareness of a brand’s presence in the community is one of the key components in any naming rights deal. Just how that translates into increased sales is anyone guess. Still, when Garden State Baseball started a new team, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2008, the stadium was named Coca-Cola Park. In 2010 Joe Brake, vice-president of Coca-Cola Bottling of the Lehigh Valley, told Ballpark Digest, “It’s the best investment we ever made.” He stated that its market share went up significantly after the ballpark opened.
But Coca-Cola was putting its name on a brand-new field, not one that had already existed for 20 years. There can be a backlash when a familiar name is replaced, as the San Francisco Giants found out when they refused to put their old name, Candlestick Park, on a new stadium. The venue is now on its third name in six years, AT&T Park.
A look at the Trenton Thunder Facebook page shows that 31 of 35 comments about the new ballpark name were negative –– an admittedly unscientific and minuscule representation. And minor league teams generally do not generate the same kind of fierce fan loyalty of big league clubs –– though it will be interesting to see what happens when the Reading (PA) Phillies, who play in the same league with the Thunder, shortly announce their team name change after 46 years.
Sages would also warn Church & Dwight to be cautious about the Enron Curse. That ill-fated company purchased the Houston Astros stadium naming rights in 2000 in a 30-year, $100 million deal. The scandal-ridden company declared bankruptcy in 2001, and the Astros were forced to buy back the rights for $2.1 million.
In his book “Practical Speculation,” financial expert Victor Niederhoffer analyzed the performance of companies that purchased naming rights from 1990-2001. He found that such companies, during the year of naming and the subsequent years, performed significantly worse than the Standard & Poor 500.
However, Niederhoffer was dealing with major companies paying major amounts for major league stadiums. No such study has ever indicated that names on minor league ballparks carry such ominous fate. And no one is confusing Church & Dwight with Enron.
Jim Craigie admits that it is highly speculative to gauge the market effect of naming rights in this case. That the Thunder is in business with the Yankees is part of the equation –– Church & Dwight has its eye on that premium brand down the line.
He says, “This was part done because we’re part of the community and part done for the name recognition. You never know what you get back. It’s the first time we’ve done any association with a park of any kind. If it really plays well, I’d love to see more associations with the Yankees. We will do market research surveys, we can check out brand awareness, we can watch sales in stores in the area and things like that.” But, he admits, tracking the effect on sales is not easy.
The deal will have no effect on the coffers of Mercer County. This deal is between the Thunder and Church & Dwight, and the county is just an on-looker. Kevin Bannon, executive director of the Mercer County Parks Commission, says, “When we sat down to re-work our lease, everyone won. It was a revenue-neutral deal for us; it allowed the Thunder to grow as well, and to reach out to their great corporate partners. And at the end of the day, the people that win are the Mercer County residents, Bucks County residents, central Jersey residents, because the Thunder once again just did a great thing.”