NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans and Louisiana-based Smoothie King have reached a 10-year agreement to rename the New Orleans Arena as the Smoothie King Center.
Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha said such a deal had been a "gigantic" piece of owner Tom Benson’s business plan since he bought the long-struggling small-market franchise from the NBA in the spring of 2012.
"Finding a naming rights partner was key to the long-term financial viability of this franchise in this market," Lauscha said.
Benson, who has owned the Saints since 1985, purchased city’s NBA franchise — formerly called the Hornets — for $338 million and has consolidated the headquarters and many of the business operations of both clubs. The hope was that with the two franchises sharing resources and cross-promoting one another, the region could better support two major professional sports teams.
Officials with both the club and Smoothie King declined to release financial terms of the deal, which also gives Smoothie King an option for a 10-year extension.
Smoothie King owner Wan Kim said sponsoring an NBA arena in New Orleans helps his company demonstrate its commitment to the community where it is based while promoting its brand globally.
Smoothie King, founded in suburban New Orleans in 1973, has 674 locations in 31 states and in Asia, and is looking to expand both nationally and overseas, Smoothie King President Tom O’Keefe said. Of 30 NBA cities, 21 currently have Smoothie King franchises, he said.
The arena is officially being renamed on Thursday, in time for next week’s NBA All-Star festivities in New Orleans.
Kim, a native of South Korea who attended college and business school in the United States, bought the company in July 2012. He said he initially considered moving its headquarters to Atlanta or Dallas.
"I started to realize a lot of people who live in New Orleans, for them, it’s very difficult to leave the city," Kim said. "It’s a very different city. It’s very unique, culturally, and I did start to see why people didn’t want to move.
"At the same time, I did feel our root is here and I shouldn’t give up on that," Kim said. "Not only did we decide not to move out, but we are pretty much telling you (with the naming rights deal) that our group is here and we are sticking with it."
As part of the agreement, Smoothie King will be airing commercials during Pelicans broadcasts, as well as sponsoring pregame and postgame segments.
The company’s smoothies will also be available at concession stands around the arena.
Team officials said there were "two or three" other candidates for a naming rights deal, but that Smoothie King’s interests seemed most aligned with the Benson’s goals of promoting the business climate in his home state.
"There’s no more perfect story to say how businesses can root themselves in New Orleans and grow," said Rita Benson LeBlanc, Benson’s granddaughter and a part owner of the Pelicans and Saints. She added that the agreement is "a testament to how New Orleans has recovered (from Hurricane Katrina) and how Louisiana is redefining itself as an economic development engine."
The deal might have been completed before this season began, but because Smoothie King products contain nutritional supplements, NBA rules required that all of the company’s products be tested to ensure there were no banned substances.
LeBlanc said that process took about eight months.
"We couldn’t have any question as to what are the contents of the products that Smoothie King actually offers," LeBlanc said.