Merger means SunTrust name will come down from Braves park

The Atlanta Braves SunTrust Park may be changing names soon. SunTrust is being qcquired by BB&T and the merged company will have a new name. Curtis Compton/

The Atlanta Braves SunTrust Park may be changing names soon. SunTrust is being qcquired by BB&T and the merged company will have a new name. Curtis Compton/

One way or another, it looks like the Atlanta Braves are going to be playing in a park that will not be named SunTrust.

The $66 billion acquisition of SunTrust by BB&T Corp. means the two huge banks will be merged into one company under a new name, which has yet to be decided, officials said Thursday. It will be headquartered in Charlotte.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported that the current, 25-year pact between the team and SunTrust calls for the bank to pay $10 million a year for the right to place its name on and inside the ballpark.

While not specifically addressing if or how that agreement might change, William Rogers, SunTrust's chief executive, said the merged bank wants to continue its relationship with the Braves. BB&T currently has naming rights to a number of sports arenas.

Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall did not return calls from the AJC requesting comment.

For many decades, sports venues were mostly named for places, owners, historical figures or the teams themselves. Even the Braves’ previous home – Turner Field – was named for their then-owner, Atlanta mogul Ted Turner.

But naming rights are big business – a way to promote a company's brand – and the new firm is likely to want its moniker on the park, said Scott Kirkpatrick, founding partner of Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners, which specializes in sports marketing and consulting.

“SunTrust has already determined that owning the naming rights is a valuable asset, and the value of that property has not changed,” he said. “One could argue that it would be more valuable, since there would be an opportunity to introduce themselves to the Atlanta market.”

Other than on signs around the park, the name is frequently used in news stories and discussions on Internet, television and radio.

"The Braves are a popular team, and the bank thinks, 'We want some of that positive sentiment to rub off on us,'" said Jamie Turner, author and chief executive of 60SecondMarketer.

Measuring the business benefits from having a high profile is much more difficult than gauging a sales boost from a particular ad campaign, he said.

“All roads in marketing should lead to a return on investment,” Turner said. “But naming rights, that is harder because you just never know. You have to use your best judgment.”

Investment in naming rights can go wrong: The Enron name had to be removed from the Houston ballpark in 2002 after top executives were charged with a range of crimes and the company imploded.

When SunTrust bought the Braves' naming rights in 2014, the deal was second only to the reported $20 million-a-year deal that put Citi's name on the Mets' ballpark in Queens.

"Clearly, naming rights are a big deal," said economist J.C. Bradbury of Kennesaw State University.

“The fact that we are talking about this – there’s this huge merger and we are talking about the ballpark – that just shows how much of an impact sports has.”

And whether or not there is hard proof of the value of naming rights, companies clearly think they are worth it, Bradbury said. “If people continue to do it, that signals that they are getting something out of it.”

AJC staff writer Scott Trubey contributed to this story.