HOUSTON – When the Houston Astros open the 2002 regular season this April, Enron Corp. won't be invited to the party.
Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. announced Wednesday that the team has agreed to give the bankrupt energy giant $2.1 million to buy back the naming rights for Enron Field. The team's home stadium will become "Astros Field," and McLane said he hopes to find another buyer for naming rights within 60 days.
"We will be very selective," McLane said, noting that at least seven companies have approached the Astros about the 3-year-old stadium. "We learned a lot from this experience."
Enron's creditors approved the deal late Monday. The arrangement is subject to final approval from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez in New York.
"We are pleased to have resolved this issue with the Astros with a deal that is beneficial to all parties, including Enron's creditors and the city of Houston," Enron President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff McMahon said.
In 1999, when Enron pledged $100 million over 30 years to plaster the Astros' new ballpark with its name and logo, the energy trader was on its way to being one of the top 10 companies in the Fortune 500.
The company plummeted into the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history amid allegations of accounting abuses last year.
"We thought we had the perfect sponsor in America," McLane said. "We just need to put that behind us."
Dean Bonham, whose Denver-based Bonham Group negotiates naming rights deals for venues and corporate sponsors, applauded Wednesday's deal.
"The biggest benefit is the separation — a very visible and public separation — from what is far and away the most negative image association we've ever seen in the business between a company and a team," he said.
"If this had dragged out in the courts," he added, "the damage to the team could have been fairly significant."
McLane said Enron's name, which appears all over the stadium, will be removed or covered. Enron references already had been removed from the Astros' Web site later Wednesday.
Enron was paid up for naming rights until its next annual payment of $3.65 million, due Aug. 31. The company also recently spent $108,000 on a suite and $90,000 for 2002 season box tickets, as required by the contract with the Astros.
The suite will go back to the team. Enron will keep the tickets.
McLane declined to identify companies interested in buying naming rights to the ballpark except to say they were either based in or had a "very strong presence" in Houston.