Loud calls for Mets to scrap Citigroup naming rights deal

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Two members of the House of Representatives are demanding that the Mets scrap their $400-million naming-rights deal with financially troubled Citigroup because of the bank's receipt of federal bailout money.

Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner requesting he "dissolve" the contract with the Mets to name their stadium Citi Field. The Mets' home opener there is set for April 13.

In an interview yesterday, Kucinich said the financial behemoth is in no position to lay out cash to have its name on the Queens stadium. "It's just totally unacceptable that Citigroup should be able to spend $400 million in naming rights when they're the recipients of a massive federal bailout," he said.

Kucinich and Poe wrote that Citigroup's financial footing "has changed drastically" since the naming rights deal was struck in 2006. The agreement calls for Citigroup to pay $400 million over 20 years for the naming rights.

The Mets "are fully committed to our contract with Citigroup," said Jay Horowitz, the team's spokesman. [Correction: Mets vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz's name was misspelled in a story Friday. Pg. A19 01/31/09]

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Steve Silverman, a spokesman for Citigroup in Manhattan, called the contract with the Mets a "legally binding agreement" signed two years ago.

Once a financial juggernaut, Citigroup has been hit hard in the economic downturn. Taxpayers have funneled $350 billion to the banking giant as part of a federal financial rescue, including loans, in the last several months, the representatives wrote in their letter.

In November, Citigroup announced plans to cut 50,000 jobs.

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Questions relating to the naming rights deal emerged last year as the financial institution's troubles surfaced and some wondered if the record-setting deal should be ditched. Two Staten Island councilmen even proposed changing the name to Taxpayer Field.

The representatives' letter requests Geithner demand that "Citigroup dissolve the agreement" with the Mets.

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"Absent this outcome, we feel strongly that you should compel Citigroup to return immediately all federal money received to date, as well as cancel all loan guarantees," the letter stated.

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"Citi Field continues to provide a very positive way to support our community," Silverman said.

Under Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program, Citigroup received about $45 billion in taxpayers' dollars in recent months.

That infusion of cash gives Treasury officials authority to "protect the public's interest," Kucinich said.

No TARP money will be used for Citi Field or "marketing purposes," Silverman said.

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When it comes to what's appropriate for banks to spend TARP money on, "It's a muddy field," said Jay Dahya, associate professor of finance at Baruch College.

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Treasury Department officials could not be reached for comment. Playing name game Among the athletic venues that have had to be renamed because of financial or legal woes of their sponsors:

ENRON FIELD. The Houston Astros bought back the naming rights of their ballpark shortly after Enron Corp. declared bankruptcy in late 2001. On June 5, 2002, the Astros announced that Minute Maid Co. would pay an estimated $170 million for a new 28-year naming rights deal.

MCI CENTER. The multipurpose venue in Washington, D.C., became the Verizon Center in 2006 after Verizon acquired MCI WorldCom in the wake of the WorldCom scandal.

ADELPHIA

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COLISEUM. In 2002, when Adelphia Communications went bankrupt, the NFL's Tennessee Titans exited the naming contract without financial penalties. The stadium became known as The Coliseum until naming rights were acquired by Louisiana-Pacific (LP Field) in 2006.

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PAIGE SPORTS ARENA. In 2004, the new basketball arena at the University of Missouri was named after the daughter of two major donors to the university. After allegations of academic fraud against the daughter surfaced, her parents removed her name from the arena.

PSINET

STADIUM. The Baltimore Ravens' home field became M&T Bank Stadium in 2003 after PSINet declared bankruptcy.

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