The scoreboard is up, there's grass on the field and now the city's new downtown baseball stadium has a name.

For the next 10 years, the home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers will be called First Horizon Park. The company that secured the naming rights is First Horizon National Corp., which has headquarters in Memphis.Terms of the deal were not announced, but Kelly Starkey, Southeast region president for First Horizon, said it would pay the minor-league team close to $3 million.

"We see it as a wonderful opportunity to create brand awareness," Starkey said.

First Horizon has eight mortgage offices in North Carolina, including one in Greensboro that started as Sunbelt Mortgage in 1989. It was acquired by First Tennessee Bank in the mid-1990s and changed its name in 2000.

Donald Moore, president of the Grasshoppers, said the company will have a lot of signs throughout the stadium. Its name will be over the front entrance on Bellemeade Street, on a monument sign in the plaza area and on top of the arch of the scoreboard, where it will be visible from inside the stadium and outside.

In addition, First Horizon will have advertising on all three panels of a trivision board behind the bullpen mound, on top of the first-base dugout and on a sign behind home plate. Its name and logo will appear on the front of game tickets.

The company will have use of the end skybox on the first-base side, which will have a window looking out on the city, and will have some season tickets outside the skybox.

"The benefit to the fan will be to see that we have a good partner in helping us pay for (the stadium)," Moore said. "He'll see there's a new guy in town who wants to be a part of this community."

The $21 million stadium, which is privately funded, is owned by Downtown Greensboro Renaissance, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Bryan Foundation. Jim Melvin, president of the Bryan Foundation, said the revenue paid to the team will be used to service the debt on the stadium loan.

Originally, Wachovia and Bank of America each supplied a loan of $5 million toward the construction of the stadium, which will open with an exhibition game against major-league baseball's Florida Marlins on April 3, 2005. Melvin said those loans have been transferred to First Horizon.

Moore said the Grasshoppers, who play in the Class A South Atlantic League, now have revenue from naming rights, skyboxes and 12 premium advertising panels on the scoreboard. None of those was available at Memorial Stadium, the team's former home.

Some of the increased revenue will help pay for an expansion of the team's full-time staff from seven to 12 employees. The number of game staff also will increase. Bills, including the lease, are expected to be much higher.

"We have conservatively projected that our revenues will triple and our expenses will double," Moore said.

First Horizon Park is the first major sports facility in the Triad to have a corporate name attached. Venues with naming rights deals that local fans might attend include the RBC Center in Raleigh, where N.C. State plays basketball and the Carolina Hurricanes play professional hockey, and Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, home of the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

"That should make it stand out, because no one else in the (Triad) area has a title sponsor," said John Sweeney, professor of advertising at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Sweeney said the value of putting a company's name on a sports facility comes in the awareness it generates among the people who attend events there. There's more value if the company is dominant in the stadium advertising.

First Horizon eventually will have exclusive advertising rights among financial institutions at the stadium. Wachovia, Bank of America and FNB Southeast all signed deals for signs that will be honored for three years, Moore said.

\ Contact Bill Hass at 373-7047 or bhass@news-record.com

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