One of the more unusual aspects of the SunTrust Park project is how quickly the Braves landed a naming-rights partner.
A 25-year deal with SunTrust Banks was announced at the ground-breaking ceremony in September 2014, giving the stadium its name at a far earlier point in the process than is typical for major sports venues.
SunTrust and Braves executives recall that they realized early in discussions that their companies were aligned philosophically and then made the deliberate decision to see if a deal could be done by ground-breaking.
“We thought if we’re going to do this, let’s take this out of the long-term bidding process and all that, and let’s actually just be great partners,” SunTrust Banks Chairman and CEO Bill Rogers said. “We thought we could be a real asset to the park and the development and that we could be a bigger asset if we announced early.”
Thirty-one months after getting its name, the stadium will host its first regular-season Braves game Friday night.
Naming-rights deals rarely come together quickly, especially as the costs have risen. Two teams in the Braves’ division, the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins, still haven’t secured name deals for their stadiums, which opened in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
The new Falcons stadium announced a naming deal with Mercedes-Benz in August 2015, some 15 months after ground-breaking on the downtown Atlanta stadium.
The deal with the Braves marked the first time SunTrust had bought naming rights to a stadium, although in recent years the bank had its name on the most exclusive seating section at Turner Field, the SunTrust Club directly behind home plate. That relationship set the foundation for the SunTrust Park deal.
“That, I think, opened our eyes up to, particularly, the national exposure that one could get through a sponsorship,” Rogers said. “Seeing SunTrust behind the batter on every pitch, seeing people across the country respond to that, seeing clients respond … I think that was sort of an eye-opener to what a naming-rights relationship could be.”
The Braves and SunTrust decline to say how much the bank is paying to have its name on the stadium, although Rogers said “it’s safe to say it’s the largest” marketing deal in the bank’s history, “primarily because it’s the longest.”
Industry experts have estimated the value of the deal at $10 million per year.
“We’re going to let everybody speculate where they may,” Rogers said. “But this is what I would say: We feel exceptionally strong about our return on investment.”
Rogers said he sees the partnership “as far more than putting our name on a ballpark.”
SunTrust will open a baseball-themed interactive entertainment center for all ages called “The onUp Experience” just outside the stadium gates in The Battery Atlanta on Friday morning.
SunTrust Chief Marketing Officer Susan Somersille Johnson described the onUp Experience as “a one-of-a-kind venue connecting finance, fun and baseball to help people achieve financial confidence.”