GREENSBORO — First Horizon? What’s that?

Well, real-estate insiders know it as a mortgage lender. But First Horizon National Corp. is also a budding banking company that wants to build regular old branches — lots of ’em — throughout the Triad and North Carolina.

That’s why the company is putting its name on the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ new downtown stadium.

“We’re counting on the naming rights helping First Horizon become a household name to the general population,” said Kelly Starkey, regional president for First Horizon’s southeast division.

First Horizon’s eagerness to make a big splash is part of the reason why the Memphis, Tenn.-based company — and not a local group — will have its name on the stadium, said Grasshoppers President Donald Moore. A naming rights consultant had talked to several groups about the stadium, but nothing worked out, he said.

Moore said he didn’t think Jefferson-Pilot Corp. and other local companies wanted their name on the park “because there’s really no financial benefit to them.”

But there’s certainly a financial benefit for the Grasshoppers. First Horizon is paying about $3 million during 10 years for the naming rights, a substantial amount for a minor-league baseball stadium.

Supporters also remind people that the stadium is privately funded and needs to make money.

“This is a commercial venture,” said Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and a key stadium backer.

First Horizon’s current Greensboro presence is limited: a regional headquarters and a mortgage office on Green Valley Road. The company was the seventh-busiest issuer of home loans in Guilford County in 2002, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

But the company is planning an aggressive expansion. In January, First Horizon plans to open bank branches in the handful of mortgage offices it owns around the state, including the one in Greensboro.

In 2006, the company will start building new branches in the Triad. Starkey said the company will eventually operate enough offices to be competitive with large regional banks such as Wachovia and BB&T, but she declined to give an exact number.

“We’ve got to have enough to be convenient,” Starkey said.

First Horizon learned about the stadium deal through Starkey, who heard that a First Horizon affiliate, First Tennessee Bank, was putting its name on a stadium in Nashville.

Intrigued, she told corporate brass that the Greensboro stadium didn’t have a name. Word eventually got to Michael Thompson Jr. of Thompson & Co., a sports marketing agency that works with First Horizon.

Thompson called Melvin and asked about First Horizon’s chances of getting its name on the stadium.

“It turns out they didn’t have anybody lined up,” Thompson said.

First Horizon negotiated with stadium supporters throughout the fall, and a deal was reached within the past few weeks.

In recent years, naming rights have become a popular way for corporations to get their advertising message through the clutter of advertising on television, radio and the Internet.

The company thinks First Horizon Park will be mentioned enough on the street and in the media that people will begin to identify with it, said Lew Brown, associate professor of marketing at UNCG.

“It’s making people aware of the name, so when they see ... the name in a business context, they say ‘I know those folks.’ ”

Local bankers said the park name will help First Horizon earn attention in a crowded banking market.

Ralph Strayhorn, president and CEO of SterlingSouth Bank & Trust , called the $3 million package “impressive.”

“Anytime you have your name on something, it increases name recognition,” he said. “The trick is to turn name recognition into customers.”

Ernie Sewell, CEO of FNB Southeast, said First Horizon needs to be active in the community as it opens its branches.

“Anytime you can get your name out to where it’s recognized on a day-by-day basis, it has some residual effect, but that’s about it,” he said.

“It’s how well you perform.”

Staff writer Matt Williams contributed to this story.

Contact Nate DeGraff

at 373-7024 or ndegraff@

news-record.comGREENSBORO — First Horizon? What’s that?

Well, real-estate insiders know it as a mortgage lender. But First Horizon National Corp. is also a budding banking company that wants to build regular old branches — lots of ‘em — throughout the Triad and North Carolina.

That’s why the company is putting its name on the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ new downtown stadium.

“We’re counting on the naming rights helping First Horizon become a household name to the general population,” said Kelly Starkey, regional president for First Horizon’s southeast division.

First Horizon’s eagerness to make a big splash is part of the reason why the Memphis, Tenn.-based company — and not a local group — will have its name on the stadium, said Grasshoppers President Donald Moore. A naming rights consultant had talked to several groups about the stadium, but nothing worked out, he said.

Moore said he didn’t think Jefferson-Pilot Corp. and other local companies wanted their name on the park “because there’s really no financial benefit to them.”

But there’s certainly a financial benefit for the Grasshoppers. First Horizon is paying about $3 million during 10 years for the naming rights, a substantial amount for a minor-league baseball stadium.

Supporters also remind people that the stadium is privately funded and needs to make money.

“This is a commercial venture,” said Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and a key stadium backer.

First Horizon’s current Greensboro presence is limited: a regional headquarters and a mortgage office on Green Valley Road. The company was the seventh-busiest issuer of home loans in Guilford County in 2002, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

But the company is planning an aggressive expansion. In January, First Horizon plans to open bank branches in the handful of mortgage offices it owns around the state, including the one in Greensboro.

In 2006, the company will start building new branches in the Triad. Starkey said the company will eventually operate enough offices to be competitive with large regional banks like Wachovia and BB&T, but she declined to give an exact number.

“We’ve got to have enough to be convenient,” Starkey said.

First Horizon learned about the stadium deal through Starkey, who heard that a First Horizon affiliate, First Tennessee Bank, was putting its name on a stadium in Nashville.

Intrigued, she told corporate brass that the Greensboro stadium didn’t have a name. Word eventually got to Michael Thompson Jr. of Thompson & Co., a sports marketing agency that works with First Horizon.

Thompson called Melvin and asked about First Horizon’s chances of getting its name on the stadium.

“It turns out they didn’t have anybody lined up,” Thompson said.

First Horizon negotiated with stadium supporters throughout the fall, and a deal was reached within the past few weeks.

In recent years, naming rights have become a popular way for corporations to get their advertising message through the clutter of advertising on television, radio and the Internet.

The company thinks First Horizon Park will be mentioned enough on the street and in the media that people will begin to identify with it, said Lew Brown, associate professor of marketing at UNCG.

“It’s making people aware of the name, so when they see ... the name in a business context, they say ‘I know those folks.’ ”

Local bankers said the park name will help First Horizon earn attention in a crowded banking market.

Ralph Strayhorn, president and CEO of SterlingSouth Bank & Trust Co., called the $3 million package “impressive.”

“Anytime you have your name on something, it increases name recognition,” he said. “The trick is to turn name recognition into customers.”

Ernie Sewell, CEO of FNB Southeast, said First Horizon needs to be active in the community as it opens its branches.

“Anytime you can get your name out to where it’s recognized on a day-by-day basis, it has some residual effect, but that’s about it,” he said.

“It’s how well you perform.”

Staff writer Matt Williams contributed to this story.

Contact Nate DeGraff

at 373-7024 or ndegraff@

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