Ball Corp. is buying naming rights to the home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, part of a wide-ranging partnership with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment that it hopes will grow awareness and adoption of its recyclable aluminum cups.
Under the deal, what’s now the Pepsi Center will become Ball Arena and will begin phasing out single-use plastics for all cold beverages, including water, soda and beer. The partnership extends to other sports properties owned by billionaire Stan Kroenke, including the Los Angeles Rams and their new $5 billion stadium, as well as English soccer club Arsenal and its Emirates Stadium. Both those venues will begin introducing aluminum cups and adding recycling infrastructure.
Though terms of the deal weren’t detailed, it represents Ball’s biggest-ever marketing partnership, according to CEO John Hayes. It’s also structured in a way that gives Ball financial flexibility should the COVID-19 pandemic continue to disrupt upcoming NBA and NHL seasons, Hayes said.
“Conversely, if Kroenke can help us activate more venues to be plastic-free, they benefit in it as well,” Hayes said. “This is not a transaction where we write a check, slap our name on the stadium, high-five each other and go home. This is the beginning of a long-term journey about educating consumers on the benefits of aluminum packaging.”
For Ball, headquartered just outside Denver, the timing is strategic. In business since 1880, the company has spent the last 25 years almost entirely as a business-to-business operation, providing cans and jars for companies like Coca-Cola or Anheuser-Busch. Now Ball is preparing to sell its new aluminum cups at retail, hoping general awareness around recycling and sustainability will create a popular alternative to the ubiquitous red Solo cup. The company sees adoption at sporting events as a primary way to introduce the cups more broadly to the public.
The genesis of this deal dates back to last year, when the Pepsi Center was the first major sports venue to use Ball’s aluminum cups on a large-scale basis. The cups can be recycled and the metal recirculated within 60 days, according to Ball, making it a more sustainable option than glass or single-use plastic.
“Consumers are cognizant of sustainability nowadays,” said Michael Ceilley, Senior Vice President of Partnership Marketing, Media and Digital Sales at KSE. “That was one of the things we looked at across the KSE portfolio that really made sense—doing right by our fans, doing right by our venues and doing right by our planet.”
It’s the first all-franchise deal of this nature for KSE. Though Kroenke has owned these properties for years, this is a single partnership that includes the NBA and NHL teams and their arena, plus the NFL team and its venue, and the English soccer team and its stadium.
It’s also one of just a few major naming-rights deals that have been signed in the seven months since the pandemic began. Others include Amazon buying the rights to the NHL arena in Seattle and Swiss bank UBS partnering with the new Islanders arena, a twenty-year deal worth at least $13.75 million annually. The Denver naming rights alone are probably worth between $7 million and $9 million per year, according to Apex Marketing Group President Eric Smallwood, who does naming-rights consulting.
Pepsi’s naming rights expired at the end of September, and the transition to Ball Arena will happen immediately. Ceilley said the arena’s goal is to have all beverage packaging transition to aluminum by 2022. The other two Kroenke venues will likely make the transition on a more gradual scale. At SoFi Stadium, for example, the aluminum cup will see increased use, starting as the standard container for draft beer.