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Massachusetts Youth Soccer chief John Burrill said Citizens Bank will gain by having its name on the 16-field facility.
Massachusetts Youth Soccer chief John Burrill said Citizens Bank will gain by having its name on the 16-field facility. (Bill Polo/ Globe Staff)

Branding goes fundamental

Bank buys naming rights to youth soccer complex

LANCASTER -- For years, corporations have paid millions of dollars to stamp their names on professional sports stadiums and arenas.

But buying the naming rights for a youth soccer field?

Targeting parents, coaches, and youngsters, Citizens Bank has purchased the naming rights of the 16-field Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association complex in Lancaster. The 136-acre facility will sport green-and-white signs proclaiming it Citizens Bank Fields at Progin Park, when it formally opens later this year.

For the bank, "the visibility they are going to get, the ability to come here and [advertise] their services while tournaments are going on, is going to be very attractive," said John Burrill , executive director of Mass. Youth Soccer.

The five-year agreement at the soccer complex is the latest evidence of a trend in the naming rights phenomenon as corporations seek to increase the visibility of their brands to adults and children who attend youth sporting events.

Neither the association nor the bank would disclose how much the naming rights cost, though the bank said it was a "substantial investment."

Bob Smyth, the chairman and chief executive of Citizens Bank in Massachusetts, said the bank felt that investing in the soccer complex and youth sports was a sound investment, and it was something the bank wanted to do for the community.

"We really look at, 'Where do our employees and customers live and work? And how do we enhance those communities?' " said Smyth.

Elsewhere in the region, the Holliston Youth Soccer Association has named its new four-field complex on Marshall Street the HYSA Boston Life Sciences Park after selling the naming rights to the Hopkinton-based biotech company. The association is also marketing the naming rights of the individual fields.

"It's a big plus for a company to be able to market their name, getting regional awareness," said Tom Teager, the association's treasurer and the project manager for the fields.

Teager is also the president of the ForeKicks indoor sports facility in Norfolk, which hosts hundreds of youth and adult soccer games during the winter. He said he has been approached about selling naming rights for that facility and another that will be completed by the end of the calendar year in Marlborough.

"If the company represents the values of the families and kids that use the facility, and is related to [sports], we will pursue naming rights," Teager said.

Corporate influence is spreading throughout youth sports. In Canton, Reebok World Headquarters has a complex with a soccer field used by local recreational and school teams. And Little League Baseball Inc. has at least 15 sponsors, including Bank of America Corp., which has a deal to be Little League's official bank. The companies have sponsored contests, discounts, and giveaways of equipment with the company name.

But the step of buying naming rights for a youth soccer park represents a precedent.

Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist , a specialist in sports business, said the Mass. Youth Soccer deal will "probably start a movement. For the right price, there's some value here, with commercial exposure and PR."

Zimbalist said he saw a distinction, though, between corporations putting their names on a professional arena and stamping their name on a youth sports field.

"It's a different kind of value," he said. "It's a community do-good value."

In 2005, TD Banknorth, a Maine-based banking and financial services company, agreed to pay $6 million a year to have its name on what is now called the TD Banknorth Garden. Fleet Bank, the previous sponsor of the facility, paid $2 million for its naming rights deal on the same facility.

Some details are available on the amounts of money involved in the Citizens deal for the naming of the youth soccer complex .

Situated at the intersection of Routes 2 and 70, the complex will cost $9.5 million. Mass. Youth Soccer, which owns and operates the fields, put up $4.5 million, backed in part by a gift from the estate of the George Progin, an area plastics developer with a fondness for youth sports.

The organization raised the annual fee it charges to all youth soccer players and coaches in the state from $8 to $11, a temporary increase until the debt is retired, according to the league's Burrill.

In coming weeks, five 110- by-75-foot FieldTurf fields will open, rented to area organizations and club teams. The other 11 natural grass fields will officially open in late September.

"The complex allows us to expand our program, offer more events, and bring more children here," said Burrill.

Two major tournaments, the State Cup and the Tournament of Champions, will now be held in Lancaster, rather than off-site for a price. Mass. Youth Soccer is the second-largest youth soccer organization in the country with 185,000 player registrations.

Citizens says the Lancaster field is the only naming rights deal it has for a youth sports organization. In the professional ranks, the bank paid $95 million over 25 years to have its name on Citizens Bank Park , home field of the Philadelphia Phillies. That stadium opened in 2004.

Mass. Youth Soccer was first approached by Citizens in 2004, when the bank wanted to distribute soccer balls with the company's logo to young players across the state. The pilot program resulted in the distribution of 40,000 balls.

When Citizens wanted to renew the agreement the following fall, "we were looking for naming rights and wanted to tie up a much bigger deal," said Burrill. "They came in promptly. It took a year to put in the i's and cross the t's, but they wanted to do it."