NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board might use some of the $30 million it got from BP PLC to buy naming rights for the New Orleans Arena, where the NBA's Hornets play.
Ewell Smith, the board's executive director, said Tuesday that he and other board officials have been working with Jack Sperling, who was appointed by NBA commissioner David Stern to oversee the Hornets when the NBA bought the club in late 2010.
The name change would be only a small part of a campaign to bolster Gulf of Mexico seafood in the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill, Smith said.
Smith said he would also like vendors' booths for Louisiana seafood in other NBA arenas around the country.
He declined to comment on what the board might spend for naming rights. The New Orleans Arena opened in 1999 and the Hornets relocated there from Charlotte, N.C. in 2002.
Smith confirmed a report from WVUE-TV that Zatarain's Brands Inc., which makes New Orleans-style seasonings and food mixes, also is discussing naming rights for the arena and might be paired up with seafood in the name. "Those talks are between the Hornets and Zatarain's," Smith said. Zatarain's did not immediately return a call for comment.
He said the seafood board is waiting on information from the Hornets, and could decide in 30 to 90 days.
Team spokesman Harold Kaufman wouldn't say whether the Hornets are talking with the seafood board or anyone else. "We've been aggressively seeking a naming rights partner for many months, but at this point we don't feel it's appropriate to specify who those discussions are with," he said.
Under the Hornets' current lease, which expires in 2014, the team gets most of the money from naming rights. A new long-term lease is being negotiated in conjunction with the ownership search. However, the naming rights portion is not expected to change — it's a standard part of the package at both stadiums for helping the teams maximize stadium revenues while putting more of the onus on the team, rather than the state, to sell the rights.
NBA commissioner David Stern has said he hopes to sell the team in the first half of this year.
"There are only so many NBA arenas in the country," Smith said. "To be on that platform is an incredible way for us to position the brand of Louisiana seafood, especially given its position right next to the Mercedez-Benz Superdome."
Mercedes-Benz bought naming rights to the 37-year-old Superdome in October.
"To position our brand next to Mercedes can only help elevate our brand," Smith said. "Really, it's an incredible scenario."
Generally, naming rights are easier to sell for basketball arenas than football stadiums because they host many more events, such as concerts and circuses.
In this case, however, the dome had several high profile events to sell in 2012, including the BCS football championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl — and Saints owner Tom Benson has a business relationship with Mercedes.
Associated Press sports reporter Brett Martel contributed to this report.