Sponsors help give Diddle new look

Mai Hoang

Soft drinks, gasoline and bank accounts are playing a part in paying for the renovation of one of Western’s most famous structures.

U.S. Bank, Houchens Industries Inc. and PepsiAmericas Inc. have made written or verbal agreements to be a cornerstone partner for Diddle Arena.

U.S. Bank has its logo on one of the entrances to Diddle, which was officially reopened in November after a joint renovation project with the city of Bowling Green.

Houchens has naming rights to the playing floor, and Pepsi has naming rights to the video screens.

The cornerstone partners also get additional signage in the arena as well as an opportunity to work with the university on several marketing promotions.

The companies, what administrators hope will be six cornerstone partners, will contribute about $5 million combined over 23 years toward debt service for Diddle, athletic director Wood Selig said.

They are still in negotiations with a fourth possible cornerstone partner, which would have signs at an entrance.

That deal should be made in a few weeks, Selig said. The university plans on seeking fifth and sixth cornerstone sponsors next semester.

Either of the final two cornerstones could have signage on the arena’s remaining two entrances.

Western initially was going to ask for $5 million for someone to rename the arena, said Tom Hiles, vice president for Institutional Advancement. That decision was reconsidered after officials decided it was important to keep the arena’s name, which is for legendary men’s basketball coach E.A. Diddle.

It also put tax concerns at rest for the city of Bowling Green, which lent the bonds.

City officials were concerned that if the university renamed Diddle, it would lose its tax rate on the bonds that financed the project.

Selig came up with the idea of cornerstone partners after seeing a similar program at the American Airlines Center, where the Dallas Mavericks play.

The three companies were already involved in Western’s athletics program, he said. Pepsi is the official drink for all the sporting events as well as the university.

Houchens has done several promotions involving university athletics, such as giving free tickets for buying gasoline at its Jr. Foods convenience stores.

“They’re giving of themselves, their resources and possess a desire for excellence similar to what we possess here,” Selig said.

A cornerstone partnership at Western involves a long-term relationship – these companies agreed on deals of five to 10 years.

“The whole goal was just not to have someone want to put their logo on a piece of plastic in Diddle Arena,” Selig said. “The thought and concept behind cornerstone partners was to establish a unique working relationship between a core group of businesses who want to elevate the potential among everyone.”

Craig Browning, U.S. Bank region president for southcentral Kentucky,

said being a cornerstone partner would provide increased exposure to students, alumni and community members at a high-traffic area like Diddle Arena.

They currently have promotions such as raffles at its bank branches.

There will be an information outlet at bank branches for Western athletics that will provide information about upcoming athletic events, distribute game schedules and sell tickets, Selig said.

Browning said its marketing department is developing a Hilltopper checking account, which would be free and include checks that have the Western red towel logo on it.

“We feel that with the high-quality athletic programs the university has there will be a greater draw of numbers in the building,” he said. “With that result, the promotion of brand image and product and services is a good opportunity.”

Marketing professor J. Richard Shannon said the cornerstone partnership will be a good move for both the companies and Western.

Having an association with Western through developing a long-term relationship could help boost revenues, he said.

“There are people who make purchase decisions based on whether people sponsor Western,” he said.

There will be permanent signage on the outside and inside of the arena for non-athletic events, such as concerts and conferences, which can provide additional exposure for the cornerstone partners, Shannon said.

“It’s a potential for both future and current relationships with prospective customers,” he said. “The longer they’re here, the more benefits. We want people to get used to seeing the same names at Diddle every time they come around.”

Jimmie Gipson, chief executive officer of the Bowling Green-based Houchens, said being a cornerstone partner is a way for the company to benefit its community.

“It’s pretty difficult to find one organization that you can support that affects as many people as Western does,” he said.

He said it’s important for companies like his to step up to help develop athletic and academic programs at the university that exist only with private support.

“You can have a progressive Western or a stagnant Western,” he said. “I think we have a progressive Western, and I think that’s something we would like to keep.”

Gipson said he feels his role as a cornerstone partner will provide the finances and resources for a growing athletic program that he has supported for several years.

With funding that Houchens has given in the past and as a cornerstone partner, it has provided a part of the new Diddle floor and sponsored television broadcast of some athletic games.

“I was supportive of the renovation and trying to have a facility that would support, in this case, a superior basketball program,” he said. “Being in a small community, it takes a lot of support to be able to compete in basketball, which Western has done for a long time.

“I think they have done great strides for the long-term. We just wanted to be a part of that.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]