Leon Bibb: FirstEnergy's purchase of Cleveland Browns Stadium naming rights puts more light on team

FirstEnergy enters Browns game as special team

CLEVELAND - The first time I entered Cleveland Browns Stadium it was to cover preparations for an evening where the guys on the field were to perform at the highest level to a cheering crowd.

It was a summer evening in 1999 when opera stars Luciana Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo -- The Three Tenors -- filled the new ballpark with song while backed up by the world-renown Cleveland Orchestra.

That was the first large event held at the then-new Cleveland Browns Stadium.

On Tuesday, there was a different kind of music filling the air of the stadium. It was the sound of millions of dollars being exchanged. 

First Energy, headquartered in Akron, bought the naming rights to the stadium.  It was enough to make Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam offer a smile as bright as a 1,000-watt light bulb. Probably even brighter.  FirstEnergy Chief Executive Officer Tony Alexander beamed too, knowing his company's name would be emblazoned all over the stadium.

Until this point, the Cleveland Browns had been one of only a handful of NFL teams without a corporate sponsor's name on their home. That changes now as the Browns and FirstEnergy huddled and came up with a play to benefit both.

Mums the word on how much money and for how long the contract will run.  However, the Cleveland City Council will have its say because the stadium is owned by the city and leased to the Browns. No one expects any changes in the call of the play because of that. What is evident is the amount of importance professional sports puts on naming rights of its stadiums.

Naming rights are a big-time player on the competitive sports field. When Haslam bought the Browns last year, he gave every indication he would seek new streams of money.

His $1 billion investment brought new energy to the Browns, to Cleveland and the rest of Northeast Ohio. Soon, the name FirstEnergy will be lit and new electric signs will flood across the highest points of the stadium, even across the roof. 

The money FirstEnergy pays for that privilege will go into the Browns treasury to be used to run the team and pay the huge costs any NFL franchise has on its payroll. No doubt, FirstEnergy will energize Haslam's Cleveland Browns even more. 

At the official announcement of the name rights deal, Haslam presented Alexander a Cleveland Browns jersey bearing the FirstEnergy name over number 1. That signifies just how a big a deal this is. 

So let there be light. In this instance, FirstEnergy, which supplies a lot of it, will supply a lot more.


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