‘Paycor Stadium’ naming rights deal, signage hit potential roadblocks

One Hamilton County Commissioner says she wants the stadium lease agreement rewritten to guarantee taxpayers benefit from the new name.
Paul Brown Stadium to become Paycor Stadium (photoshopped)
Paul Brown Stadium to become Paycor Stadium (photoshopped)(WXIX)
Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 8:22 PM EDT

CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Bengals’ new naming rights deal with Paycor could bring in millions for the team as it looks to resign a talented crop of young players including quarterback Joe Burrow. But Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece takes issue with one facet of the deal: the county’s cut.

Separately, the Cincinnati Planning Commission will meet next week to vote on the Bengals’ application for Paycor-branded stadium signs, and the CPC staff is recommending that application be denied.

Reece said after the announcement Tuesday she’s supportive of the deal but voiced concerns that Hamilton County taxpayers won’t benefit.

“[O]ur current Cincinnati Bengals tenant agreement expires in 2026 and under this old agreement, the taxpayers who fund the stadium will receive no revenue from this naming rights agreement toward the county debt and leaves taxpayers on the hook,” she said in a prepared statement. “Since this proposed naming rights agreement would go years beyond the current contract, I would like to see a new deal that would get us to a revenue share model where both the taxpayers of Hamilton County and The Bengals, as well as Paycor and the other naming rights companies all win!”

The Bengals’ stadium lease with Hamilton County contains a revenue-share arrangement for naming-rights deals. The Bengals are entitled to $16.67 million of a deal’s net revenues. All net revenues over that amount are split 70/30 among the team and the county.

Net revenues are whatever money Paycor gives the Bengals minus whatever costs the Bengals must bear in fulfilling the deal, including—“without limitation,” per the lease—advertising, private suites, club seats, tickets “and other products to the naming party.”

County administration does not have the terms of the Paycor deal, but they have run the numbers on deals inked by similar NFL teams. The concern, according to Reece’s chief of staff, Quentin Monroe, is the Bengals will follow those teams’ example in using common accounting practices to assess the value of the deal’s fulfillment costs such that no net revenues will exist.

It’s not clear at this time whether the naming rights deal must go before the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners for approval. Monroe says the county’s lawyers are currently reviewing the contract.

It’s also unclear what Reece’s specific ask is. Monroe wouldn’t comment on how Reece would vote should the deal require board approval, nor would he say whether the commissioner is seeking an entirely new lease agreement or simply a revision to the naming-rights clause in the existing agreement.

The Bengals and team must negotiate a new lease agreement before the current one, signed in 1996, expires in 2026.

The stadium’s 2022 debt and operating expenses are expected to be around $40.1 million. Capital repairs and maintenance will cost another $6 million. The same expenses for Great American Ball Park will total around $31.3 million. The county brought in an average of $84 million through the half-cent riverfront sales tax 2016-2021.

MORE | At least $493M needed to maintain, upgrade Paul Brown Stadium over 20 years

One of the naming-rights deal’s fulfillment costs will be “Paycor Stadium” signage erected around the exterior of the stadium. The Cincinnati Planning Commission Board must approve of the signs because the Bengals’ are requesting a variance to the Cincinnati Zoning Code, which contains rules how large and how many signs are allowed on buildings located in the city.

The zoning code permits one sign for each building façade and no more than four signs in total. The size of the signs is capped by a formula that multiples the width of the wall on which sign is installed by one-thirtieth the height of the sign above the street.

The Bengals are requesting 12 total signs of varying square footages, the largest being a pair of 22,400 sq. ft. canopy banners.

The Bengals won’t be able to put up permanent signs by the time the season starts on Sept. 11, so the team is also requesting a temporary variance to install temporary signs on the east and west club windows and the east and west canopy roofs. The Zoning Hearing Examiner will decide on that variance at a hearing Aug. 24.

The team writes in its application these variances are “the only practical avenues to allowing the installation of the signs during the 2022 season.”

The team also argues the relevant portion of the zoning code was designed to regulate ground-level storefront signs of high-rise buildings rather than sports and entertainment venues that are wide, broad and sometimes massive.

“The uniquely large scale and horizontal orientation of PBS means that in order for exterior signs there to be experienced the same way by viewers and to appear in similar proportions to the rest of the building, they must be larger than the limitations of zoning code which apply to other downtown buildings,” the team writes. “In other words, signs at the stadium must be larger in order for them to be useful as signs.”

Planning commission staff recommend against the variance for the permanent signs, though it appears to do so on principled opposition to variances in general rather than with specific regard to the immediate case.

The staff recommendation cites no significant objections and notes similar signage is featured on Great American Ballpark, TQL Stadium and Heritage Bank Arena. “The pure size of the stadium needs any signage to be appropriately scaled to the structure in order to be effective,” the staff acknowledges.

Though rare, the CPC board occasionally sides against staff recommendations. The board will meet Aug. 19 to vote on the variance.

“The City has been a good partner as the team works through the normal processes for obtaining the approvals necessary for the installation of certain signs at Paycor Stadium, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue at the Planning Commission,” said Luke Blocher of Taft law firm, which is representing the Bengals in the matter. “We appreciate the City’s support, and we thank Mayor Pureval and Interim City Manager Curp for their leadership on these matters.”

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