Sports

Phoenix Suns arena will be named Footprint Center in 'one of the most unique partnerships in sports'

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Key Points
  • Footprint is an engineering company that wants to eliminate single-use plastic and use the Phoenix Suns home complex to test new technologies.
  • The downtown Phoenix sports complex will now be called Footprint Center.
Footprint Center exterior
Source: Suns Legacy Partners & Footprint

The Phoenix Suns have a new arena name, after agreeing to terms with engineering company Footprint, the parties announced Friday. The downtown Phoenix complex will be called Footprint Center.

Footprint is an environmental-based tech company that wants to eliminate single-use plastics. The Arizona-based firm develops and manufactures plant-based packaging products and is recognized on the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, which honors private companies leading out of the pandemic.

Financial details of the agreement were not provided. But NBA arena sponsorships are typically seven figures annually, and sports partnerships consultancy firm IEG notes agreements can also range up to $30 million a year.

In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Suns managing partner Robert Sarver said the agreement with Footprint is "one of the most unique partnerships in sports" because Footprint has full access to the arena and will use events to test new technologies.

"We're going to innovate and transform how sports venues operate," Sarver said. "The idea is Footprint will create an innovation lab for us within our arena, and then we can take that and get other arenas throughout the world interested in doing the same thing."

Footprint makes sustainable products like ready-to-eat dinner containers made from bio-based, biodegradable, compostable and recyclable fibers. Footprint has deals with companies including Swanson foods (makers of Hungry-Man frozen dinners) and Conagra Brands (Healthy Choice dinners). To date, Footprint has raised more than $500 million, according to PitchBook.

"Over time, I think you'll see they're going to be a household brand," Sarver said. "They are in a space that is very popular among investors and among corporations who are also trying to improve their environmental footprint."

The company enters the agreement with the Suns at the right time. The team made the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 and recently finished a $230 million renovation of the arena, which included $150 million from the city of Phoenix.

Troy Swope, a co-founder and CEO of Footprint
Photo courtesy Footprint

Footprint co-founder and CEO Troy Swope said the deal with the Suns was "too compelling to pass up."

"The reason it's called the Footprint Center, is we're going to put Footprint at the center of the sustainable universe," he added.

Sarver explained sports arenas generate lots of plastic waste but noted roughly 10% gets recycled. "It's terrible for the environment," he said.

"I was also surprised to learn that many people take a close look at the type of businesses they do business with – the different products they eat, and how they're packaged," Sarver added. "I started thinking this would be a great match for our client base and demographics."

Footprint Center interior
Source: Suns Legacy Partners & Footprint

NBA arenas have sponsorship openings

There's an opening for smaller companies to enhance their brand with NBA arena sponsorships. The San Antonio Spurs have a slot available after AT&T didn't retain its rights. The Oklahoma City Thunder could soon unveil a new name, and in March, the Miami Heat agreed to its new 19-year, $135 million arena naming rights deal with crypto company FTX.

"You're seeing a sea change where younger companies that are in a very high growth mode and want to get their brand name out are embracing the opportunity to sponsor buildings," said Sarver, who also owns the WNBA's Mercury franchise.

Talking Stick Resort declined to renew naming rights with the Suns last November. The Arizona casino property took over the slot from US Airways in 2015. That contract was a 10-year deal worth more than $20 million total, according to the Arizona Republic.

Footprint stands to benefit from Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. The league approved virtual floor ads for the company, giving it additional national TV exposure. Those slots are usually reserved for top corporate sponsors, which means the Suns had to seek permission.

"This was unique," Sarver said of the new deal. "And it just fits us."

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