It will be difficult to rebrand the arena where the Indiana Pacers play, but the head of the team’s parent organization is confident the company whose name is now on the building will promote it well.
“This will be a challenge because people identify this building as Conseco all over the world,” said Jim Morris, president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment. “On one hand, we’ll no longer have a name that’s a household name, but it’s another opportunity to tell our story and affirms a very important partnership.”
Morris and officials from Carmel-based insurer CNO Financial announced the name change to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday at a news conference attended by Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel.
CNO Financial executives said they picked Chicago-based subsidiary Bankers Life and Casualty Co. as the venue’s namesake because it has the broadest national reach among the holding company’s three brands. CNO also operates insurance companies Colonial Penn and Washington National and fixed-income investment advisor 40/86 Advisors.
Moments after CNO Financial CEO Ed Bonach announced the new name, a voice boomed from the arena’s public address system: “Welcome to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The doors are now open.”
Crews tore down a black tarp covering a sign in the foyer bearing the new logo, and the electronic message board flashed Bankers Life and Casualty Co.
CNO Financial changed its name from Conseco Inc. last year but didn't immediately change the identity of the arena where the Indiana Pacers have played since 1999.
That puzzled sports-marketing experts, some of whom questioned whether the company was trying to get out of the 20-year naming-rights deal. The company has seven years left in the $40 million sponsorship.
Some local hotels listed the venue as CNO Financial Fieldhouse on their websites earlier this week, fueling speculation about the new name.
Bonach said switching the fieldhouse moniker is simply the “natural next rebranding move” after officials worked to phase out the Conseco name in its holding company and subsidiaries. The company also merged three insurance companies—two of which had Conseco in the name—under the Washington National brand.
Bankers Life targets middle-income earners near or in retirement. It has 1.3 million policyholders across the U.S. and 5,600 agents in 250 U.S. locations.
It’s also CNO Financial's most important business, selling a mix of life insurance, annuities and health insurance as a supplement to Medicare. Bankers Life produced revenue in 2010 of $2.4 billion, or 58 percent of CNO's total sales.
Bankers Life is even more important for CNO's profits, contributing 79 percent of the company's 2010 earnings before interest and taxes.
“By aligning [the fieldhouse] with our core business and consumer-facing brands going forward, we’ll be promoting that name in ways that we didn’t before,” Bonach said. “Seven years is still a long time to have the Bankers Life Fieldhouse take hold.”
Transitioning from one venue name to another can prove challenging. The home of the Miami Dolphins, for example, has been named Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Sun Life Stadium and Land Shark Stadium to reflect various changes within the franchise and among its sponsors.
Last year, Morris told IBJ that CNO officials were proud of the Conseco Fieldhouse name.
CNO “has been a great partner, and are very committed to the Fieldhouse,” Morris said at the time. “They’ve told us the name will not change.”
But Morris said Thursday that while the Pacers are “in some respects sad to see the Conseco name go, we have a very active, market retail company … that’s prepared to take advantage of this partnership.”
“That’s a good thing,” Morris said.
The companies came to an agreement about the name change within the last 30 days, Morris said, though discussions had been taking place before that.
Morris praised CNO Financial for remaining committed to the naming-rights agreement, even as it hit hard financial times in the early days of the agreement. The company then known as Conseco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002.
When asked if CNO Financial had ever discussed abandoning its naming rights-deal, Morris replied, “Never.”
The financial agreement for the naming-rights deal won’t change with the renaming, but CNO Financial will spend an undisclosed amount—Bonach said it’s less than $1 million—to change signage at the facility.
The company also will launch a marketing plan Thursday that includes print, radio and TV ads and direct mail pieces to spread awareness of the new name.
Scott Perry, who serves as chief operating officer of CNO and president of Bankers Life, wouldn’t disclose more details about the campaign but said it would “leverage the excitement and enthusiasm around the Super Bowl.”
The company also will offer a promotion to encourage fans to purchase tickets for the Pacers’ first 2012 home game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Jan. 7, offering prices of $1, $7 and $12, to reflect the game date of 1/7/12.
And CNO plans to tout its other brands throughout the fieldhouse, including through a mural depicting the family of companies.
The rebranding of the fieldhouse will be complete in January.