Conseco name lives on at downtown arena

Conseco Fieldhouse is a sponsor-named venue with a distinction: The sponsor no longer uses the Conseco name.

And though there is little apparent value to keeping an obsolete name on the home of the Indiana Pacers, the company formerly known as Conseco appears to have backed away from plans to change it.

In March, company officials said if shareholders approved killing the Conseco name in favor of CNO Financial Group, they’d likely move within a year to change the name of the fieldhouse.

In May, shareholders approved the company name change by a wide margin.

But CNO spokesman Tony Zehnder told IBJ this month that there’s now no imminent plan to change the name of the building. And Pacers officials have made clear the Conseco Fieldhouse name will remain.

“We continue to work with the Pacers,” Zehnder said, “to do what’s best for all concerned.”

The apparent decision to retain the name—even in the short term—is baffling to marketers.

“CNO not changing the name of the Fieldhouse is one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard,” said Jim Walton, CEO of Brand Acceleration, a locally based advertising and marketing firm. “Where’s the benefit for CNO in retaining the Conseco moniker? There is none. It makes you wonder what’s going on.”

CNO has no subsidiaries operating under the Conseco banner, nor does it sell any products bearing the former name of the company co-founded by Steve Hilbert in 1979.

Zehnder said cost is among the factors playing into keeping the name.

“We realized that changing all the signage would cost serious money,” Zehnder said. “We decided it was more important to change the marketing materials from inside the building to reflect our company’s name change.”

Zehnder said another consideration was continuity for the nationally known venue and downtown landmark.

“[CNO officials] are very proud of the Conseco Fieldhouse name,” said Jim Morris, Pacers Sports and Entertainment president. “[CNO] has been a great partner, and are very committed to the Fieldhouse. They’ve told us the name will not change.”

There’s no plan to try to get out of the $40 million, 20-year naming-rights deal, Zehnder said. CNO is in the 12th year of its contract, which Pacers officials say is iron-clad. The contract also stipulates that CNO would have to pay for any signage changes.

Zehnder said he didn’t have a cost estimate to change all the fieldhouse signage, but sports marketers and signage experts pegged it at less than $1 million.

“They’ve got some nice, uniquely mounted custom signs, so it isn’t just a matter of hanging a sign on a building,” said Michael Pflum, vice president of sales at Greenwood-based Sign Solutions Inc.

Despite the cost, Walton said the decision not to change the venue’s name makes little sense.

“You’ve got $40 million invested in this deal, why not invest a bit more to drive some brand awareness to your company and to maximize the return on that investment over the remainder of the contract?” Walton said. “I don’t get it. CNO has decided to move away from the Conseco brand, yet they keep the Conseco name on this building. That’s what you call confusion. That’s not the way you build a brand.”

Even CNO’s CEO, Jim Prieur, has taken shots at the Conseco name. He told IBJ in March that the old company name had people asking, “What is a Conseco?”

“Conseco is sort of a funny name, anyway,” Prieur said, adding that it even led some to believe former professional baseball player Jose Canseco had some involvement with the company.

Advertising experts said the company name change was made, at least in part, to distance the firm from Conseco’s checkered past.

After the difficult acquisition of Green Tree Financial in 1998, Conseco came under some criticism for high-paid executives and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002. The company divested itself of Green Tree in the process of reorganization, and emerged from bankruptcy in 2003. Hilbert was jettisoned in the process.

During its bankruptcy filing, sources close to the company told IBJ that Conseco explored abandoning its fieldhouse naming-rights deal. In the end, Conseco decided to keep the deal as part of its restructuring plan.

The name Conseco was an amalgamation of the first two insurance companies acquired by the firm. One was named Consolidated National Life Insurance Co. and the other was Security National Life Co. The name was adopted in 1983 and used as Hilbert bought a raft of life and health insurance firms and merged them into one company.

Keeping the old name on the fieldhouse might not make sense from a company branding perspective, but it means those who promote the venue will be spared the challenge of continually rebranding it.

In the last 15 years, the home of the Miami Dolphins has been called 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.

The home of the Houston Astros shed its Enron Field moniker when the electric company foundered. The facility was renamed Minute Maid Park to reflect a new sponsorship deal.

The home of the San Francisco Giants changed from Pacific Bell Park to SBC Park in 2003, as a result of SBC’s acquisition of Pacific Bell. The stadium was christened AT&T Park in 2006 after SBC Communications merged with AT&T.

Local sports marketing consultant Milt Thompson said such transitions aren’t easy.

“You have to consider not only the signage, but marketing materials, audio/visual kits, all the team’s sponsorship material that mentions the fieldhouse,” said Thompson, president of Grand Slam Cos. “It’s possible that CNO has decided to maintain this name in part as a public service to the city and the Pacers.”•

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