The Phoenix Suns have been given a new arena name after reaching an agreement with engineering firm Footprint, the parties announced Friday. Downtown Phoenix is called Footprint Center.
Footprint is an environmentally-based technology company that aims to eliminate single-use plastics. The Arizona-based company develops and manufactures plant-based packaging products and is recognized on the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, which honors private companies that emerged from the pandemic.
Financial details of the agreement were not provided. But NBA arena sponsorships are usually seven-figures a year, and sports partnership consulting firm IEG notes that agreements can also run as high as $30 million a year.
In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Suns executive Robert Sarver said the agreement with Footprint is “one of the most unique partnerships in sport,” as Footprint has full access to the arena and will use events to test new technologies.
“We’re going to innovate and transform the way sports venues work,” Sarver said. “The idea is that Footprint will create an innovation lab for us within our arena, and then we can take that and get other arenas around the world interested in doing the same.”
Footprint makes sustainable products such as ready-to-eat dinner packaging made from biobased, biodegradable, compostable and recyclable fibres. Footprint has deals with companies including Swanson Foods (makers of Hungry-Man Frozen Dinners) and Conagra Brands (Healthy Choice Dinners). According to PitchBook, Footprint has raised more than $500 million to date.
“Over time, I think you’ll see them become a house brand,” Sarver said. “They are in a space that is very popular with investors and with companies that are also trying to improve their carbon footprint.”
The company enters into the agreement with the Suns at the right time. The team made it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 and recently completed a $230 million arena renovation, including $150 million from the city of Phoenix.
Troy Swope, co-founder and CEO of Footprint, said the deal with the Suns was “too attractive to pass up.”
“The reason it’s called the Footprint Center is because we’re going to put Footprint at the center of the sustainable universe,” he added.
Sarver explained that sports arenas generate a lot of plastic waste, but noted that about 10% is recycled. “It’s terrible for the environment,” he says.
“I was also surprised to learn that a lot of people are looking closely at the types of companies they do business with — the different products they eat and how they’re packaged,” Sarver added. “I was beginning to think this would be a great match for our customer base and demographic.”
NBA arenas have sponsorship openings
There is an opening for smaller companies to bolster their brand with sponsorship of the NBA arena. The San Antonio Spurs have a slot available after AT&T failed to keep its rights. The Oklahoma City Thunder could be unveiling a new name soon, and in March, the Miami Heat agreed to its new 19-year, $135 million arena naming deal with crypto firm FTX.
“You’re seeing a turnaround where younger companies that are in a very strong growth phase and looking to get their brand out there are taking the opportunity to sponsor buildings,” said Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Mercury franchise.
Talking Stick Resort refused to renew naming rights with the Suns last November. The Arizona-owned casino acquired the slot from US Airways in 2015. That contract was a 10-year deal worth a total of more than $20 million, according to the Republic of Arizona.
Footprint will benefit from Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. The competition approved virtual floor ads for the company, bringing it additional exposure on national TV. Those slots are usually reserved for top corporate sponsors, meaning the Suns had to ask for permission.
“This was unique,” Sarver said of the new deal. “And it just suits us.”
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