Wednesday, February 27
Ballpark renamed 'Astros Field' for now
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros have bought back the rights to the name of "Enron Field" and will call their ballpark "Astros Field" until a new sponsor can be found, the club announced Wednesday.
The team will pay $2.1 million for the naming rights, which Enron agreed to buy for $100 million over 30 years. Despite its bankruptcy filing in December, the financially beleaguered energy company was current on its ballpark payments through Aug. 31.
"Its time to move forward," Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. said Wednesday. "I am very happy that we have been able to reach this settlement and put this issue behind us."
The deal still must be finalized by the federal bankruptcy court in New York that is handling the Enron case.
Earlier this month, the Astros told the bankruptcy court that continuing to play at a ballpark named Enron Field was hurting the team because notoriety stemming from Enron's collapse and subsequent accounting scandal.
"Because the Enron name blankets the stadium, thousands of people who have been adversely affected by the Enron collapse are being reminded on a daily basis of this continuing tragedy," the team wrote in its Feb. 5 filing to the court handling Enron's bankruptcy case.
Enron made three annual payments totaling $10.25 million toward the naming rights deal. The company also remained current on its $200,000 payment for a suite and box seats, which were part of the naming rights deal.
Enron countered in its own filing this week that there was no provision in the contract that allows the team to back out unilaterally.
"The naming rights agreement does not contain any provision that would allow (the Astros) to terminate the contract based upon the current controversies surrounding Enron's financial affairs," Enron said Tuesday.
A hearing on the dispute was scheduled for later Wednesday in New York.
The 1999 naming rights agreement put the name of Enron, then growing into one of the nation's largest corporations in terms of revenue, on the ballpark built across downtown from its headquarters.
Kenneth Lay, then Enron's chairman, had been instrumental in building a coalition of business support to build the stadium and keep the Astros from moving away. Lay threw out the first pitch at the park's inaugural game in 2000.
As part of the deal, Enron's name has been branded on all exterior and interior signage and everything from game day staff members' uniforms to cups, napkins, plates and the tickets.