The Rockford Files: BMO Harris Bank’s Icy Naming-Rights Deal

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Pretty much everybody’s hurting for cash these days: workers, companies, cities. 

So it was good news for the struggling city of Rockford, Illinois, when it got BMO Harris Bank — a subsidiary of Canada’s Bank of Montreal — to pay for the naming rights to its local arena, turning the Rockford MetroCentre into the BMO Harris Bank Center. When the city negotiated its deal with Harris, though, it agreed to one thing that it couldn’t actually follow up on: secrecy.

The Rockford Star Register has filed all the paperwork and done all the dirty work and, through the wonders of the US Freedom of Information Act, come up with the price Harris paid to the city in order to see its name in lights: $1.3 million over five years. 

That kind of cash is certainly needed. After all, the venue (home to the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs, now sponsored by the bank as part of the naming deal) lost $893,260 in the year that ended June 30, according to the Star Register, a loss that was made up with a $1.1 million subsidy from the city.[more]

The city should have known that a non-disclosure agreement on the price paid was a losing battle before it ever signed the deal, the newspaper points out: “They knew taxpayers owned and operated the arena, and legally have a right to the information,” the Star Register notes. “We know the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority was trying to get the most revenue, the best terms, it could. Taxpayers appreciate its hard work. RAVE may have gotten a good price for the name, but officials had no right to add secrecy to the terms of the deal. It was the public’s information they were bargaining away.”

And so Harris, instead of leaving residents of Rockford with a good feeling, have made a slight mess of the affair, which can’t be good for the BMO Harris Bank company name. Now that’s not worth $1.3 million, is it?

Also putting the brand on thin ice locally — the news this week that it’s cutting 21 jobs by closing its Rockford call center.

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