Forbes is reporting that the Mariners have reached with the mobile communications company for naming rights of what used to be Safeco Field.
Magenta and the Mariners? It could be the new combination in the Sodo district starting next season.
Forbes reported that the Mariners have reached an agreement with T-Mobile — the company started under a different name by Mariners owner John Stanton in 1994 — for the naming rights of their stadium, which had been known as Safeco Field since its construction and opening in 1999.
However, MLB sources said that any naming-rights deal won’t be official until a new lease agreement with the Public Facilities District, the board that oversees the stadium, is finalized.
The previous naming-rights agreement with Safeco ended after the 2018 season. The insurance company announced it had elected not to renew its agreement with the Mariners in 2017 after 20 years. Recently the memorable and visible Safeco Field sign on the outside of the retractable roof and other signage in the stadium had been removed.
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The Mariners had been shopping the naming rights to local businesses in search of a partner. It appears they’ve settled on the mobile communications giant. Although Forbes originally reported the naming rights to cost $6 million per year, it updated its story to say around $3 million per year is more likely. Safeco’s deal, beginning in 1998, was widely reported to be worth $2 million per year over 20 years. SunTrust Banks’ naming deal for the Atlanta Braves’ brand new stadium costs the company in excess of $10 million per year, SportsBusiness Daily reported.
The naming rights issue became a key bargaining point when the Metropolitan King County Council was debating this summer whether to give the Mariners public funds for stadium renovation and fixes.
The Mariners had argued they deserved public funds because it was a publicly-owned stadium. Why, then, would all of the naming rights revenue from a new deal go to the Mariners and not the taxpayers who own the stadium? Four council members who opposed the deal thought the public should get a piece of the naming rights money, as well.
The Mariners response was that the naming rights revenue was only one part of a larger deal for a new long-term lease at the ballpark, and that the team was also putting its own money into fixing up the stadium.
In fact, Mariners executive vice president Fred Rivera said in late August that the team could not even begin marketing the naming rights contract because it had no long-term deal in place. Rivera even suggested the team might not be able to secure a sponsor in time for 2019.
The council ultimately voted 5-4 to approve $135 million in funds for the ballpark, with all the naming rights revenue going to the team. The Mariners still need to agree upon a new lease with the PFD. The previous lease runs through Dec. 31.
“The PFD and the Club are still working to finalize a lease and anticipate that to be completed by the end of the year,” said PFD Executive Director Kevin Callan.
T-Mobile, which has about 5,500 employees in its Bellevue headquarters, announced a plan to merge with competitor Sprint earlier this year. The proposed $26.5 billion merger is being considered by regulators.
The company declined to confirm the news Thursday.
“We’re always looking for ways to show our hometown love but we don’t have any news to share at this time,” a spokesman said in a statement.
T-Mobile is expected to be the lasting brand if the deal goes through, and adding naming rights to its hometown field would only reinforce the claims that the combined company’s headquarters will remain in Bellevue.
The company has its roots in VoiceStream, a company started in Bellevue in 1994 by influential longtime McCaw Cellular executive and now-Mariners majority owner John Stanton. VoiceStream was sold to German company Deutsche Telekom in 2001 and renamed T-Mobile.
T-Mobile, which still is owned by Deutsche Telekom, could likely afford the steep naming fees — the company reported revenue of more than $40.6 billion last year, and profit of $4.5 billion. It’s known for having aggressive and expensive magenta-filled marketing campaigns, which often encourage people to “break up with” their current carriers and switch to T-Mobile.
T-Mobile now has more than 77 million customers, making it the third largest carrier in the U.S., behind Verizon and AT&T.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the Mariners’ lease agreement with the Public Facilities District is awaiting a final vote from King County Council.
Seattle Times reporters Rachel Lerman and Mike Rosenberg contributed to this story.