The Pit, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

An iconic arena in the Mountain West Conference is looking to rename the home of its mid-major Men’s and Women’s basketball program.

Officials with the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque have announced plans to sell the naming rights to the 15,400-seat arena, officially renamed The Pit in 2009 although colloquially- used by fans since the building first opened in 1966.

University officials are hoping to generate about $10-$15 million for the name, explained Deputy Athletic Director Tim Cass, who said extra cash would help New Mexico shoulder its $3 million annual burden of paying off debt on the facility’s $60-million renovation done in 2010.

“The funding model was predicated on getting a naming gift so it has posed challenges to us to find additional resources,” Cass said.

The current name remains wildly popular and Cass said the university is hoping that the naming rights buyer would keep ‘The Pit’ somewhere in the title, although it’s unclear how this will be accomplished.

“We do not want to lose the name ‘The Pit.’ We feel like it’s iconic to the building,” Cass said. 

Jesse Rybeck with Premier Partnerships, a naming rights agency with offices in New York and Los Angeles (and is not currently involved in the sponsor search for UNM) said that college arena naming rights present an interesting proposition for corporate brands.

“When you’re dealing with a mid-major school that’s not one of the major college conferences, the biggest asset they bring to the table is their regional presence,” he said. “These arenas are an important part of the local community and in a state like New Mexico with a growing population but no major sports franchise, often it’s a chance to get on the ground and build a new customer base.”

College deals typically average $2-$3 million for a Division I school, and run usually for five- to 10-year increments. Rybeck said the 2003 Fresno (Calif.) State agreement for the Save Mart Center was a good benchmark for the Mountain West Conference, equaling about $2 million a year for 20 years. Two other comparable deals for arenas in the Mountain West Conference — Boise (Idaho) State’s Taco Bell Arena and San Diego State’s Viejas Arena, generated $4 million for 15 years and $6.9 million for 10 years, respectively.

Cass said New Mexico would also be open to a naming rights deal for University Stadium, the football team’s home.

Last year the school named the new turf Branch Field because of a $1.5-million gift from the family behind the Branch Law Firm.

Interviewed for this article: Tom Cass, (505) 925-5510; Jesse Rybeck, (646) 741-3053