Bank signs deal with NBA’s 76ers despite conflict

It doesn’t happen often but one big bank in the U.S. has signed a marketing deal with the basketball team despite the fact they play in an arena sponsored by another bank

Firstrust Bank has signed a marketing deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, even though the NBA team plays in an arena emblazoned with the name of another bank -- and will until 2024.

The 76ers play in the Wells Fargo Center, a naming rights deal that originated with Philadelphia’s CoreStates Financial Corp. in the mid-1990s and rolled up to Wells Fargo & Co. through a series of mergers. The San Francisco bank was never interested in a partnership with the team, which has struggled in recent years and is currently 4-36, last in the NBA.

This arrangement frustrated Sixers executives, who conspicuously refer to the arena only as "The Center." Team Chief Executive Officer Scott O’Neil has suggested it might be the first time in the history of sports-venue naming rights that the naming company declined to become a marketing partner of the team that played there.

Finding a different bank sponsor wasn’t easy. “It has been, obviously, an especially challenging category given where we play,” said Chad Biggs, the 76ers senior vice president of corporate development. “We’re in this for the long haul. The hope and plan is that Firstrust becomes an official partner for many years.”

The team held talks with a number of banks, Biggs said, some of which viewed the Wells Fargo attachment as an impediment. Wells Fargo’s name is also written on the court as part of the naming-rights deal, and Firstrust is prohibited from displaying signs in the arena.

So the Sixers got creative. For instance, Firstrust will be able to offer flights on the team charter with the players or tours of the Sixers locker room to important customers or valued employees. Players will make appearances at the bank’s retail locations, and around 80 of the team’s courtside regulars will be invited to a ”Row 1 Dinner” with officials from the closely held bank, hosted by coach Brett Brown.

“We believe that the Sixers, under their new leadership, have demonstrated that they are both willing and able to make the commitment to re-invent and re-establish themselves as a pre-eminent NBA Franchise,” Richard J. Green, chairman and chief executive officer of Firstrust, said in a statement.

Neither Firstrust, which was founded in Philadelphia and is based in Conshohocken, nor the 76ers disclosed terms of the contract.

The 76ers are owned by an investor group led by Apollo Global Management LLC co-founder Josh Harris and David Blitzer. They also control hockey’s New Jersey Devils and their arena, the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Scott Soshnick
Bloomberg News