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Newsroom Naming Rights to Be a Hot Topic

A controversial branding trend involving newsroom naming rights is likely to garner much attention in San Diego this year.

Meanwhile, new client opportunities for local public relations and marketing types are expected to be abundant in 2006, according to Audrey Benedetto, co-founder and executive vice president of Benedetto Communications, Inc., a San Diego-based boutique founded in 1999.

“The market has been really great,” Benedetto said. “It’s really interesting because the city has grown up so much, there’s just a lot of opportunities out there for people in the public relations field.”

Benedetto, who is the membership chairwoman for the San Diego chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, also said that “lifestyle-type” campaigns prompting new hotels, restaurants and high-end shops are increasing in popularity, especially in Downtown San Diego, as the urban marketplace continues to grow.

The issue of newsroom naming rights first came to San Diego in April 2004 when it was announced that XPRS-AM The Mighty 1090 all-sports talk studios in La Jolla and at Petco Park would be renamed the SAIC Studios. Sorrento Valley-based high-tech defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. bought the naming rights from the La Jolla-based Broadcast Company of the Americas, which also owns Spanish-language station La Pantera 105.7 FM and financial news station Cash 1700 AM.

John Lynch, the president of the Broadcast Company of the Americas, said that in the coming year, he hopes to sell naming rights to the La Pantera and Cash studios to other San Diego companies. Lynch, who declined to release details about the SAIC contract, said that selling naming rights is a creative way to generate revenues.

Unlike Lynch’s enthusiasm for the trend, not everyone in the industry is in favor of the concept of newsroom naming rights.

Gayle Falkenthal, a former TV and radio broadcast journalist who now runs Falcon Valley Group, a public relations company in Scripps Ranch, said she is concerned about newsroom ethics being compromised for profits.

“Does that compromise content? I think so; I mean, how could it not,” Falkenthal said.

In a statement dated Dec. 13, David Carlson, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the industry’s largest organization, agreed with Falkenthal. Carlson, who teaches journalism at the University of Florida, said that selling newsroom naming rights is “dangerous” and jeopardizes the media’s credibility.

While journalists may oppose it, selling these rights is not an entirely new concept to either the media or marketing industry. From 1948 to 1956, the NBC Nightly News was called the “Camel News Caravan” in recognition of key sponsor Camel cigarettes. Falkenthal said that the return of such embedded sponsorships in broadcasting is likely a result of marketers trying to combat today’s technology, such as TiVo, which allows viewers to easily skip commercials.

“If you want to see the content, you must also see the ad; I think that’s what the industry is moving to,” Falkenthal said.

Although the Broadcast Company of the Americas is the only media outlet in San Diego to sell newsroom naming rights, another owner of local radio stations has a recent history of selling naming rights elsewhere.

Clear Channel Communications, Inc., which owns eight radio stations in town, has sold naming rights to stations it owns in Wisconsin. In 2004, San Antonio-based Clear Channel sold naming rights for WISN-AM 1130 in Milwaukee to Pyramid Bank. And in December, the company announced that WIBA-AM 1310 and FM 101.5 in Madison would broadcast news from the Amcore Bank News Center effective Jan. 1.

Among Clear Channel’s holdings in San Diego are AM stations KOGO 600 and KLSD 1360 and FM stations KHTS 93.3, KMYI 94.1, KUSS 95.7 and KGB 101.5.


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