The Lansing Center is situated in the Michigan city’s Stadium District next to the Grand River downtown. (Courtesy LEPFA)

In Michigan, Lansing Center joins relatively short list of venues looking for deals

The Lansing (Mich.) Center is searching for a corporate naming-rights sponsor, adding one more convention center to a small list that have looked for such partnerships.

Last month, the city announced its desire to work with a naming-rights partner under a 10-year, $1.5 million deal that includes corporate branding on the convention center. The city owns the 270,000-square-foot center, and last year 250,000 people attended 320 events at the venue.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor looks forward to the financial stability a sponsor would provide. “If we can find a dedicated revenue source that’s not taxpayer dollars, then we’re interested,” he said.

Not many convention centers across the nation have sought naming-rights deals in the last 20 years, but it could become more popular as time goes on, said Eric Smallwood, president of St. Clair, Mich.-based Apex Marketing Group, which was brought in to help find a naming-rights sponsor for the Lansing Center.

“It’s a growing trend as a way to align a brand with a convention center. The value can be attributed to not only putting a sign out there. … It’s an integrated program unlike other advertising opportunities out there,” Smallwood said.

Convention centers gain exposure through internal and external branding on the building, social media and more, he said.

The Lansing Center is managed by the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which hired Apex Marketing and M3 Group, a public relations and branding agency, to help with the naming-rights partner search.

“The Lansing Center is a very large part of our downtown. I live downtown, so I get to see firsthand the amazing events there. We can’t wait to see who ends up coming on board,” said Tiffany Dowling, president and CEO of Lansing-based M3 Group, which has worked with LEPFA for about a year now.

LEPFA is a nine-member nonprofit board that also operates the Cooley Law School Stadium and City Market.

The 7,527-seat stadium is home to the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class A minor league baseball team. It has a naming-rights deal worth $1.5 million over 10 years with the law school that will expire in 2020. City Market is a large urban market, and all three venues sit along the Grand River and a major interstate in downtown Lansing.

According to the city, the three venues had a $81 million economic impact on downtown Lansing during the 2017 fiscal year.

“Convention centers are a place of business, and there’s a lot of attraction for branding,” said Scott Keith, president and CEO of LEPFA. “We’re looking to grow. It’s been 12 years since our last renovations.”

Specifically, Keith said the venue needs a new marquee, improved Wi-Fi and upgrades to its interior decor. “We need to refresh our look and feel,” he said.

The Lansing Center is not the only convention center in the market. The convention board in Memphis, Tenn., reportedly decided last month to explore selling naming rights to the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Among the precedents for such a deal: In 2015, the Cleveland Convention Center searched for a naming-rights partner, a deal that belongs to Huntington Bank after the financial institution acquired FirstMerit Bank, which originally landed the sponsorship deal for $10 million over 20 years.

In Lansing, several corporations have reached out to LEPFA and Apex Marketing about partnering with the Lansing Center, Smallwood said, but he declined to give names.

“They all have a large presence in Michigan,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of naming-rights deals are going to have a large corporate presence within a 30-mile radius of a venue.”

Smallwood worked for Comcast Spectacor for several years as a senior vice president helping with naming-rights deals and understands the intricacies that go into the process. It’s a process he thinks other facilities will embark on, especially when they read about sponsor deals in the press.

Anytime a new convention center naming-rights deal gets media coverage, “they’re going to think about it,” he said.