Farewell, Applebee's. Hello, Whitaker Bank.
Leaders of the Lexington Legends ended a monthlong mystery Thursday when they announced Whitaker Bank has bought the naming rights to the team's stadium along North Broadway.
Whitaker Bank Ballpark marks another major move for a Kentucky bank that is overshadowed in the Lexington market by bigger names.
The price paid for the naming rights was not disclosed. (Sportsvenues.com has reported the price of the previous deal with Applebee's at $3 million.)
Alan Stein, president and chief executive officer of the Legends, wouldn't say whether the deal was more lucrative than the previous one, but he said with a smile that "we always strive to do better every day in what we do."
He said the contract is for 10 years, "and there are contingencies that, if met, will boost it to 15."
Variables include club classifications and affiliations. The Legends belong to the Class A South Atlantic League and are affiliated with the Houston Astros. A long-discussed jump to Class AA would increase the value of the naming rights, as might an affiliation change, particularly if the Cincinnati Reds were involved.
Stein said the Legends began the process of finding a successor to Applebee's toward the end of last season, and a deal didn't take long.
"Absolutely," said Elmer K. Whitaker, chief executive officer of Whitaker Bank. "We share a lot of the same values and we both saw value in the partnership. When it's mutually beneficial, the agreements are fairly quick and easy."
Asked how many other potential naming-rights clients were approached, Stein said the group "talked to a couple of our current major sponsors and gave them an opportunity but ... it was sort of simultaneous to our conversations with Whitaker. There wasn't anybody first or second, but we came to a really good and quick arrangement with Whitaker very early on in the process."
He said that an agreement in principle was reached in October and that the deal was signed in December. That same month, the team paid tribute to Thomas & King, the Lexington-based Applebee's franchisee that had bought the naming rights for the team's first decade.
"We got more than we paid for," Mike Scanlon, Thomas & King's CEO, said at the time. "It was one of the best business transactions I've ever done in Lexington, and that's bar none."
That's what Whitaker Bank is hoping for, too, as it looks to raise its profile in the area.
The bank ranked ninth in market share with 3.73 percent of deposits in the Lexington market area as of June 30, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. With $321.7 million in deposits in the area, it trails market-leader Central Bank, Chase, Fifth Third, PNC, Traditional Bank, United Bank & Trust, BB&T and Kentucky Bank.
Statewide, Whitaker Bank ranked 11th with $1.28 billion in deposits and 1.86 percent of total market share, according to the FDIC.
The bank's roots trace to 1978, when Elmer Whitaker bought three bank charters in the state. It expanded to Lexington in 1993 and now has 56 locations in 17 counties, according to its Web site. That includes Peoples Bank & Trust in Madison County. Whitaker recently bought Danville-based Kentucky Trust and will begin offering trust services.
Legends tickets will be sold at a discount — terms yet to be announced — at all Whitaker banks and affiliates. The discount will apply at the Legends ticket office when using a Whitaker debit card.
Buying the stadium's naming rights was a wise move, said Scott Kelley, director of the University of Kentucky Center for Sports Marketing.
"Applebee's got huge mileage out of it," he said, noting that the park's naming rights stand out because other venues like Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium have no branding associated with them. "I think one of the challenges for (Whitaker) will be to move beyond Applebee's Park because a lot of people will still know it as that for quite some time."
The naming rights will allow Whitaker to create a "better awareness of the bank and make it more top of mind for people who are switching."
In addition to trying to build its customer base, the bank's decision to buy the rights is a show of support for the community.
Whitaker and the Legends will use a "street tour" trailer to transport inflatable toys for use by community and non-profit organizations.
Whitaker's deal with the Legends continues a trend the bank has of sponsoring athletics, said UK international banking professor Joe Peek. The bank also sponsors UK basketball with its "Bank Shot" promotion in which it donates $100 to the Cawood Ledford Scholarship Fund for each bank shot made by a Wildcat. The fund provides scholarships to former student-athletes to help them finish their degrees.
"The problem for Whitaker is, are you going to move your bank account?" Peek said. "Probably not, but it is a form of advertising. ...
"It's like having a billboard on the side of the road."
In fact, a neon sign already is in place at the park. And, with each game won by the Legends, a Whitaker "W" pennant will be raised over the left-field bleachers.
"We'll be very active and involved. We always are," Whitaker said. "We'll enhance some of the promotions, we'll be sponsoring some additional promotions in the park and, hopefully, have some nice events in addition to baseball that we'll be a part of."