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 league bought the club in late 2010.
The name change to the Louisiana Seafood Arena 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 in an interview.
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.
The naming rights talks have nothing to do with the state's continuing negotiations with the NBA about a long-term lease to keep the Hornets in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
"We know the seafood and marketing board has been having their own discussions about what to do with the BP money. Our only guidance to them is that those stakeholders should decide what's the best use of that money to help that industry," Jindal said Tuesday.
The marketing board is appointed by the governor and under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Asked whether anyone from the state or the Hornets was worried that the naming rights purchase might appear to be a state subsidy, Smith wrote in an email, "At the end of the day, this is a marketing buy for us."
The money could be spent on television, billboards or other traditional media, he wrote from a conference in Florida, but "we are simply looking at opportunities that can be leveraged beyond a traditional buy."
The BP money is in $5 million increments over three years, and the seafood board must account for previous spending each time it asks for another installment, Smith said. Asked what the board would do to pay for naming rights after that, Smith said he couldn't go into details but "we are also working on future funding sources beyond the three years for our overall marketing efforts."
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 return a call for comment.
Smith said the seafood board is waiting on information from the Hornets, and could decide in 30 to 90 days.
He said a trade journal article about the seafood board and the Hornets already has revved up interest in the board. An out-of-state NFL team asked about making Louisiana seafood the team's official seafood, Smith said.
"That's the kind of opportunity we want to leverage," he said.
Team spokesman Harold Kaufman would say only, "Naming rights have been a focus for the team for the last few seasons and although it's not appropriate to identify who those discussions are with, we are very excited about our progress."
The proposed name could open the arena to ridicule, said Thomas "Tommy" Karam, who teaches sports marketing at Louisiana State University.
"I think it would be a name that could be risky," he said.
A private company name alone would be best — and Mercedes-Benz, which bought naming rights to the Superdome in October, has boosted the value of the arena's naming rights, both by its own prestige and its use of those rights, Karam said.
He didn't think much of a double-barreled name pairing Louisiana seafood and a company.
"The name has to be a very clean name," he said. "And you don't want a name people are going to make fun of."
Even though it was given specifically to market Louisiana seafood, using BP money for naming rights might upset some people hurt by the oil spill, he said.
Under the Hornets' current lease, which expires in 2014, the team gets most of the money from naming rights. Like the Superdome's lease, it's seen as a way to help teams maximize stadium revenues while putting most of the job of selling the rights on the team rather than the state.
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."
"To position our brand next to Mercedes can only help elevate our brand," Smith said. "Really, it's an incredible scenario."