NIU Athletics searching for naming rights partner

By Eddie Garcia

DeKALB — NIU is declaring a Request for Proposal in search of potential business partners for the naming rights to the Convocation Center. This is the first time any school has done something like this in the state of Illinois.

Sean T. Frazier, associate vice president and director of athletics, announced NIU is looking for a naming rights partner for its 10,000-seat multipurpose arena that welcomes nearly 215,000 visitors a year, according to a Jan. 29 press release.

An RFP is a document that solicits a proposal often made through a bidding process by a company looking for potential investors or business partners.

“This RFP is a fair and equal process that is going to evaluate anyone that wants to take a look and partner up with us,” Frazier said. “It has never been done before in the state of Illinois; we have not had an RFP for naming rights for a facility our size, so this is new. It was important for us to have a fair and transparent process.”

John Cheney, senior associate athletic director for Internal Operations, who led this project, said the RFP is a part of a long-term plan to generate revenue for the athletic department in effort to modernize and update small cosmetics for their $36 million facility.

Cheney said the decrease in enrollment leads to less students paying fees that go toward supporting NIU Athletics. NIU’s total enrollment decreased by five percent from fall 2017 to fall 2018, while the spring 2018 semester enrollment declined over 800 students from this point this past year, according to a Feb. 2 Northern Star article.

Cheney said the university is not in a position where they are forced to take a bid but that the revenue would help supplement money lost through student fees from lower enrollment.

“Say you are looking at $5 million, so it’s going to be a half a million dollars a year over 10 years,” Cheney said. “That [money] would go directly into the operational budget of the athletic department or the Convocation Center, and that would be able to offset some of the student fee reduction based on lower enrollment.”

Although $5 million for a 10-year deal is a rough estimate, Cheney said the deal they are searching for may be within that price range.

“$5 million is something I just threw out there, but hopefully it is something in that ballpark, more or less,” Cheney said. “It is not like that is the bucket we have to fill, but we’ll see where the numbers come from. That is probably about in range with some of the other facilities our size or similar of stature have gotten in their naming rights.”

Frazier said NIU is open to accept offers from any potential business partners who not only offer the right amount financially, but also share the same core values as the university.

NIU’s main pitch for the naming rights partner is they would receive a significant amount of exposure. They would have signage on Interstate 88, inside the arena, on the court, on the video board and on all of the staff’s uniforms.

Alcohol and gambling companies are the only business partners who are prohibited because of their business not being in line with the university. Other than that, Frazier said the university is open to any type of business partners, local or national.

“We have a lot of local interest, and to be perfectly honest with you, those individuals are just as important as the national brand,” Frazier said. “It is important to make sure it is accessible for all, so it’s not just that we are looking for national brand ‘X’ where local brand ‘Y’ might be just as good and the right fit for us. That is why it is important to have an RFP.”

Part of the proposal includes what the potential business partner would change the facility name to and what logo they would place on it.

“At the end of the day, they get the naming recognition both exterior to the building,” Frazier said. “It’s a canvas of opportunities. From the court, to the digital LED boards, to the seating, we have a name pretty much spread out throughout the Convocation Center that they’ll have visibility to. We are on TV, ESPN3; it is a national broadcast, so that will be a direct benefit to that partner. That entity’s name will be flashed to millions of homes and households.”

Frazier said the bids can start coming in by the end of month, as they look for a new partner who fits the NIU brand.