Worcester’s PawSox deal includes unusual corporate backstop
As PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino began to seriously consider moving the team to Worcester, he worried about whether corporate sponsorships would take a hit.
In response, city and business leaders didn’t just offer assurances that the money would be there if the team relocated from Pawtucket. They put those assurances in writing.
An unusual provision in the deal between the team and the city guarantees at least $3.1 million a year in sponsorships during the team’s first five years in its new home. The city-team agreement, expected to be approved by Worcester’s city council on Wednesday, requires an unspecified third party to buy enough game tickets to make up the difference if the sponsorships fall short.
City Manager Ed Augustus says he doubts that will be necessary. A group of business leaders quickly assembled sponsorship commitments from local companies a few months ago to help persuade Lucchino to move. The PawSox wanted eight or nine founding level sponsors, willing to pay at least $100,000 a year, Augustus says. The last he heard, Augustus says, the team was up to 17.
The most prominent of those will be Polar Beverages: The soda company is paying for naming rights at the 10,000-person capacity ballpark that will be built for the city and the team.
The ticket-buying provision allows Worcester’s foundations to play a role. They wouldn’t normally sponsor a for-profit ball club, but could buy up tickets to be distributed to local students. Augustus says he expects the team’s future sponsors may simply kick in more money as well, in the event of a shortfall.
Then there are the existing sponsors. Dan Rea, the team’s general manager, says he hopes to keep as many on board as possible. This list includes the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts and CVS Health, big regional players that could benefit from exposure in Massachusetts.
But Rea says team leaders knew moving into a new territory meant forging new corporate relationships. The unusual backstop, he says, provided more peace of mind as the team builds its reputation in its new home.
Of course, the city of Worcester is offering the more important guarantee -- by agreeing to borrow $101 million for the new ballpark, with the hope of paying off much of the bonds from new tax revenue. (The team will kick in $30 million in rent to the city over time, and another $6 million upfront.) The corporate backstop? That just helped ensure the deal would be seen as a home run by Lucchino and his team.