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Sprint’s merger plans aside, don’t call it the T-Mobile Center just yet

A new name for the Sprint Center?

Kansas City wouldn’t be the first town to see a new name on an iconic arena. Corporate mergers, failures and changes of heart have rebranded popular venues in many markets.
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Kansas City wouldn’t be the first town to see a new name on an iconic arena. Corporate mergers, failures and changes of heart have rebranded popular venues in many markets.

Sprint's plan to merge with T-Mobile brings angst about jobs, corporate philanthropy and civic involvement. But what happens to the Sprint Center?

The glass downtown arena has carried the Sprint name from its outset. And the company's involvement began well before construction. Sprint helped make it happen.

The wireless company partly funded the 2004 campaign to gain voter approval for the downtown arena. Its marketing officials worked alongside the political team, according to the late Steve Glorioso, the longtime Kansas City political consultant who helped lead the campaign.

“They weren’t just sitting in the bleachers. They were engaged and involved,” Glorioso told The Star a year ago.

And it's not just the Sprint Center.

The familiar yellow Sprint logo rides on the outside of Kansas City's streetcars. Riders also use the Sprint-provided free public Wi-Fi along the streetcar route.

Although the companies have agreed to merge, it is officially too early to say what happens to Sprint's name on these Kansas City icons.

T-Mobile eventually will want to put its name out front and that likely includes at the current Sprint Center, said Marc Ganis, founder and CEO of Chicago-based sports consultant firm Sportscorp. Ltd.

"That's typically the way it goes," Ganis said.

As when Wells Fargo bought banking rival Wachovia and Philadelphia's Wachovia Center became the Wells Fargo Center.

Worse could happen here.

Bank of America bought FleetBoston Financial but didn't want to keep up the naming rights on the Fleet Center. Beantown had to find a new brand and the money for the now-named TD Garden.

Atlanta sits there now with its Philips Arena. The consumer electronics company has transitioned to a health care business and is letting its 20-year naming rights agreement expire next year. (An aside: The CEO who led Philips' transformation now leads Cerner.)

Sprint likely will need a year or so to complete its merger with T-Mobile, and that assumes federal officials in Washington approve the deal. Twice before, the feds have blocked merger plans involving T-Mobile.

A merger would take Sprint's name off the Overland Park-based company. The deal essentially has T-Mobile buying Sprint, and both sides agreed that the combined business would be called T-Mobile and that T-Mobile's popular but profane CEO would lead the company.

That's different than saying the Sprint brand would go away. A T-Mobile spokesman pointed to this line from the merger announcement:

"The new company will have some of the most iconic brands in wireless — T-Mobile, Sprint, MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile — and will determine brand strategy after the transaction closes," the news release said.

If the merger goes through and T-Mobile decides to scrap the Sprint brand, Kansas City's downtown arena would need a name change.

A new name is allowed under Sprint's naming rights agreement, which extends into 2032, said Shani Tate, a vice president with AEG Kansas City, which manages the city-owned arena. The arena and Sprint signed the 25-year agreement in 2007 when the Sprint Center opened.

Naming rights on the Sprint Center were handled by the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm, which has a group focused on such deals.

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