The Morning Column: November 19, 2021

Crypto.com will talk with with the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday to discuss a partnership deal after the three-time WNBA champions were left out of the $700 million Crypto.com Arena naming rights deal.

Three days after Crypto.com and AEG announced a blockbuster naming rights deal for Staples Center to become Crypto.com Arena, the cryptocurrency platform will talk with officials from the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday to discuss a separate partnership deal after the WNBA franchise was left out of negotiations, sources told The Morning Column.

When news of Crypto.com and AEG’s record-breaking 20-year, $700 million naming rights deal was reported Tuesday night, Sparks executives were angered when they found out on social media.

Sparks officials contacted AEG and asked why they were left out of discussions or at least given a heads up about the impending news. They were told it was because the two sides were still negotiating a lease extension, according to sources.

As of Friday, the Sparks still do not have a lease agreement with AEG to play their home games at Staples Center, which will become Crypto.com Arena on Dec. 25.

The Sparks have called Staples Center home for 20 years and have won three WNBA championships and played in five WNBA Finals during that time but their lease at the arena expired two years ago. Since then, they have been playing under one-year leases with the hope of signing a long-term extension.

Both sides are confident they will agree on a lease for the Sparks to play the upcoming season at Crypto.com Arena but their long-term future in their newly named home is still up in the air.

The press release for the Crypto.com Arena naming rights deal states the “agreement includes official designations across Crypto.com Arena, L.A. LIVE, Microsoft Theater, The Novo, the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Kings” and theagreement also makes Crypto.com an official cryptocurrency platform partner of the Los Angeles Lakers and the LA Kings.”

The Clippers were not included because they will be leaving Staples Center in 2024 to move into the new $1.2 billion Intuit Dome in Inglewood. Financial software provider Intuit will pay $500 million over 23 years for the naming rights to the Clippers’ new home and the team will no doubt have a cryptocurrency partner of their own. Sparks officials, however, were upset they were left out and reached to Crypto.com directly.

Crypto.com officials told the team that the Sparks were never mentioned during negotiations with AEG. The Lakers and Kings were highlighted, the Clippers’ imminent departure was referenced and Staples Center, L.A. Live, Microsoft Theater and The Novo were obviously discussed, but the Sparks were never presented as an option or possible part of the deal to Crypto.com, according to sources.

Regardless of the Sparks’ current lease negotiations with AEG, Crypto.com is hoping to strike a partnership agreement with the WNBA franchise before Staples Center officially becomes Crypto.com Arena next month. What that will mean exactly will be discussed Friday. This year, Crypto.com became the official jersey patch sponsor of the Philadelphia 76ers and entered into a sponsorship deal with the Montreal Canadiens to have their logo on center ice at Bell Centre.

AEG is hopeful to not only agree to a lease extension with the Sparks for the upcoming season but have talked to the team about agreeing to an extension to play at Staples Center for as long as the Lakers. In May, the Lakers signed a lease extension through the 2040-2041 season and in July, AEG owner Philip Anschutz sold his 27% minority interest in the Lakers to Mark Walter and Todd Boehly, who also co-own the Sparks and Dodgers.

The Sparks’ biggest issue with Staples Center being their home is that it is often not available to be their home. From 2015-2019, the Sparks were forced to play five playoff games at either USC’s Galen Center or the 4,000-seat Walter Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach because Staples Center was booked. Last season, the Sparks played their first 11 home games at the Los Angeles Convention Center because Staples Center was committed to hosting delayed NBA and NHL games. The Sparks are the fourth tenant at Staples Center behind the Lakers, Clippers and Kings and scheduling home games during the first two months of the season in May and June becomes challenging if the Lakers, Clippers and/or Kings make deep postseason runs because those teams get scheduling priority. The Sparks would move up to third on the priority list when the Clippers move out in 2024.

AEG officials have talked to the Sparks about having a more permanent presence at Staples Center after the Clippers leave. The final phase of the arena’s nine-figure renovation will be the event level and team locker rooms, which will begin after the Clippers’ lease expires in June 2024. If AEG is able to secure a long-term lease with the Sparks, they will work with the team, along with the Lakers and Kings, to build out new locker rooms, weight rooms and other amenities. AEG will begin the process of designing the new locker room hallway within the next 18-20 months. The Sparks have never had a permanent locker room at Staples Center. Their home locker room is also used as the visiting team's locker room for NHL games.

In addition to a long-term lease to stay at Staples Center, AEG and the Sparks have also talked about erecting a statue for Lisa Leslie at Star Plaza. It would be the first female statue outside of Staples Center.

Despite being left out of the largest naming rights deal in history and once again feeling like a forgotten tenant, there’s a chance Crypto.com Arena could one day feel more like home than Staples Center ever did for the Sparks.