What's in a Name? for PSINet, CBS Apparently a Huge Fight

Article excerpt

Sports talk show junkies may remember a few years back when high-octane TV host Jim Rome found himself in an on-air fight with former Rams quarterback Jim Everett. The acerbic Rome, never one to shy away from name calling, insisted in addressing Everett to his face as "Chrissy" until the 6-foot-5, 212 pound quarterback exploded.

Everett's clear message: Insults may be fair game, but messing with a man's name is completely off limits.

A similar situation is now brewing up the road in Baltimore, where CBS for the last couple of months has referred to the Ravens' PSINet Stadium by its former moniker, "Ravens Stadium," during its broadcasts of AFC games.

Executives from PSINet Inc., a Herndon Internet company, aren't about to turn over any tables and pounce on an arrogant talk show host. But they are highly frustrated with CBS, and the fallout from the PSINet's noted lack of TV exposure eventually may depress the values of all future stadium naming rights deals.

CBS' move, believed by several industry sources to be retaliation for PSINet buying ad time during football games on Fox and ABC and not CBS, hits the company hard. PSINet signed a 20-year, $105.5 million contract for the stadium naming rights in January, an industry record at the time, and had counted heavily on plenty of mentions during highly watched NFL games on TV.

With that not happening, PSINet is essentially paying more than $5 million a year for mentions in local media. It represents terrible value for PSINet - $5 million could buy exponentially more exposure in area papers and TV than the company is currently getting and is somewhat akin to having billboards all across the country being blacked out.

"The name of the stadium is PSINet Stadium - period. This is not a legacy issue we're dealing with like Candlestick Park [in San Francisco, now 3Com Park]," said Bob Leahy, senior vice president of corporate marketing for PSINet. "This really speaks to a lack of accurate reporting and journalistic integrity by the network. No other factor should have anything to do with this. The name of the stadium is the name of the stadium.

"If we knew this was going to happen, then yes, I think it would have influenced the terms" of the company's deal with the Ravens, Leahy continued. "It certainly would have been a different discussion. We made a significant gamble with our shareholders' money, based in part on our understanding that the media were obliged to use the name. Unforunately, we're now dealing with something very different."

On Fox, by comparison, Federal Express has not purchased any ad time on the network to supplement its naming rights deal with the Washington Redskins. But the network has used the FedEx Field name for each Redskins home game since the deal's signing last month.

CBS officials declined to comment for this column. It is the not the first time, however, the network has run into a naming rights issue. During the 1996 Final Four, CBS refused to use the name of the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey, instead using the more generic Meadowlands. The issue there was a sponsorship category conflict with Southwest, who bought ample ad time during the tournament. Apparently forced to make a choice, CBS followed the money and went with the airline that was paying them to get on the air.

Leahy said the company declined to buy ad time on CBS because the network's AFC games generally do not draw as many viewers as Fox's NFC games or the prime-time fare of "Monday Night Football. …