The WakeMed name will stay on Cary’s soccer park but no longer will be associated with the 10,000-seat stadium that hosts the Carolina RailHawks and several large-scale sporting events.
WakeMed Hospital’s three-year, $945,000 deal to sponsor the the town-owned soccer park expired at the end of last year.
On Thursday, the Cary Town Council unanimously approved a new deal with WakeMed. It’s nearly identical to the previous deal except it doesn’t grant WakeMed sponsorship rights to the stadium.
Cary hopes to pursue another sponsor for the stadium, and town staff thinks it will find interest among the local business community, said Doug McRainey, Cary’s parks, recreation and cultural resources director.
Stadium attendance jumped from 57,000 to 80,000 between 2012 and 2014, and park attendance rose from 180,200 to 211,770 over that time in part because Cary added about 3,000 seats and hosted bigger events such as the NCAA College (soccer) Cup, McRainey said.
“We feel strongly that the product that we are providing at the park has created individual values for both the stadium and the park,” McRainey said.
Cary doesn’t have a dollar figure or potential suitor in mind, he said. Under the new contract, the town cannot enter a stadium sponsorship deal with another healthcare system or its physician practices.
WakeMed, meanwhile, was willing to pay the same amount of money per year – $315,000 – for a sponsorship that doesn’t include the stadium because the hospital’s name would get just as much exposure without it, said Debra Laughery, vice president of public relations for the hospital.
“The value of the park has gone up, so we were fine with keeping the contract at essentially the same level,” she said.
Directional signs throughout Cary, banners on light poles near the park and promotional materials will continue to promote the town property – which boasts seven fields, a stadium and a cross country course – as the WakeMed Soccer Park.
“We found (the stadium) brought no added value. You’re not reaching additional people,” Laughery said.
WakeMed has been the soccer park’s primary sponsor since 2008, when it signed a three-year deal worth a total of $900,000. The hospital, which has a major facility off Tryon Road in Cary, has now renewed its deal three times since then.
Though WakeMed hasn’t quantified the financial benefits of the sponsorship, Laughery said the hospital is certain the exposure is worth it and is proud to be associated with the park.
“The fact that the park stands for healthy physical activity is very important to us,” she said.
For Cary, creating the new sponsorship opportunity also helps the town chip away at the cost of operating the park. The park operated at a deficit of $625,445 during the most recent fiscal year, McRainey said.
“It provides revenue we otherwise wouldn’t get,” Councilman Don Frantz said of the new sponsorship opportunity.
Despite the financial benefits, some Cary town council members seemed weary of more brandings.
“I don’t love selling the naming rights,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said. “I feel like it’s selling out the soul of our community.”
“I’m not a big naming-rights person myself,” Councilman Ed Yerha added.
Mayor Pro Tem Jack Smith said he’s OK with adding a sponsor that has a “level of dignity” like WakeMed, as long as the town doesn’t get carried away with sponsorships.
“It’s a necessary evil,” he said.