Arena Is Set to Get New Name

There will be a new name on the building where the Oklahoma City Thunder plays its home games, but it’s not clear what that name will be or when the change will occur.

Chesapeake Energy Arena will be renamed after the Chesapeake Energy Corp. terminated its naming rights, effective immediately, a spokesman for the team announced recently.

Chesapeake, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, had a 12-year agreement worth $34 million for the naming rights beginning in 2011.

That agreement, along with various others between Chesapeake Energy and the team’s ownership group, were voided as part of the energy company’s bankruptcy process.

A timeline for finding a new naming rights partner was not immediately provided by The Thunder.

The building, which is owned by Oklahoma City and was opened in 2002, will continue to be called Chesapeake Energy Arena in the interim.

“As we move toward a transition to a new naming rights partner for our area, we would like to recognize our extraordinary history with Chesapeake Energy,”  Clay Bennett, chairman of The Thunder, said in a statement. 

“For a decade, the arena has proudly bore its name and we thank Chesapeake, one of our founding partners, for its loyal support and partnership.”

While the name may be changing, Doug Lawler, chairman of Chesapeake,   remains a fan of the team.

“We have greatly appreciated our long-standing partnership with the Thunder, and while our commitment to restoring our balance sheet and increasing our competitiveness required us to terminate our naming rights agreement, as proud Oklahomans, we will continue to strongly support the team,” Mr. Lawler said in a statement.

The “Peake” was initially christened the Ford Center when Oklahoma City opened the area for public use in June 2003 through an agreement reached between SMG, the contractor hired to run the facility, and the automotive giant.

That deal lasted for nearly a decade.  By then, the Oklahoma City thunder was a featured tenant at the arena.

The Thunder had come to town six years earlier after an Oklahoma City investor group formed and led by Mr. Bennett bought the Seattle SuperSonics for $350 million.

Mr. Bennett’s group, formed in 2006 as the Professional Basketball Club, LLC, included himself and:

  • Aubrey McClendon, then chairman  of

Chesapeake Energy;

  • G. Jeffrey Records, chairman of MidFirst

Bank;

  • Tom Ward, then chairman of Riata Energy; and
  • Ed Evans, chairman of Syniverse Holding.

In 2012, the arena manager announced a new naming rights agreement with Mr. McClendon’s Chesapeake Energy. 

According to a filing Mr. McClendon made with financial regulators, Chesapeake pledged it would pay the team more than $34 million ($3 million the first year, then that plus a 3 percent annual escalation each year thereafter) for advertising and related sponsorships, along with having its name on the building.

But Chesapeake already was struggling with financial obligations and debt approaching nearly $40 billion when McClendon committed the company to the naming rights deal. 

Its financial perils forced the company to restructure its board and management team early the following year, and ultimately led it into bankruptcy in 2020.

The downtown arena is owned by the city, but according to the arena use license agreement between The Thunder and Oklahoma City, the team has the “exclusive right to sell, grant or license all naming rights.”

The Thunder also is responsible for costs associated with arena signage, the agreement said.

“In order for them to be financially sustainable over the long term, which we all want, we have to give up a lot of the revenue streams that the arena had, and naming rights was one of them,” said Tom Anderson, special projects manager for the city of Oklahoma City.

Mr. Anderson said it’s typical for professional sports franchises to have control over arena naming rights.  The city will not play a role in finding a new partner.

According to the arena use license agreement from 2008, the city expected to receive $1.64 million in annual rent from The Thunder–about $40,000 per home game.

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