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Stadium district chairman explains why Empower Field at Mile High beats 'Mile High Stadium'

Ray Baker oversees the stadium for 7 metro counties. "We have a responsibility to not incur debt."

DENVER — To local Broncos fans who prefer the name Mile High Stadium for their home stadium, ask yourself this: Aren’t the sales taxes around here high enough?

Mile High Stadium, with corporate sponsor attached, would bring in $0 annually in naming rights. Where is Mile High Stadium now? Demolished into one of the current stadium’s parking lot – just 25 years after Mile High’s final major expansion in 1977.

Empower Retirement is paying $5 million a year, and maybe more with incentives, for the stadium to be called Empower Field at Mile High.

RELATED: What is Empower, the company behind Mile High's new name?

RELATED: Broncos Stadium now named Empower Field at Mile High

With the $5 million going toward maintenance and upgrades, the Broncos’ game-day venue is going on its 19th season with plans for at least 21 more.

“Mile High was always part of the conversation,’’ Ray Baker, chairman of the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District, said about the stadium’s name at a press conference Thursday that formally announced Empower Field at Mile High. “I think what gets lost in some of our legislative mandates is we have a responsibility to not incur debt. And a responsibility to all seven counties to address capital needs. I for one … take responsibility in not having a building that’s going to be torn down.

“As you know that can’t be said for a lot of sports facilities around the country. … having no (corporate sponsor) name was not acceptable from the standpoint of dealing with the capital issue.’’

Earlier in the press conference, Baker said that while the Broncos’ existing stadium that opened in 2001 was built for $400 million, “Today, this facility is in excess of $2 billion to $2.5 billion to replace.’’

Guess who would be asked to pay the bulk of the new stadium costs? That’s right, Joe Taxpayer of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

The Broncos pulled out all the stops to welcome Empower – which has been a team sponsor since the start of the 2015 season – as their naming rights partner.

The press conference Thursday morning beneath a warm, cloudless sky was held a few feet from the stadium’s Ring of Fame Plaza and beneath the stadium façade that is topped with the statue of a bucking Bronco and banners of new Hall of Famers Champ Bailey and Pat Bowlen that now flank the new Empower logo.

RELATED: Pat Bowlen, Champ Bailey formally enshrined in Hall of Fame

Afterward, the team arranged to have general manager John Elway and current stars Von Miller, Phillip Lindsay and Justin Simmons stop by Empower’s Greenwich Village headquarters to continue the celebration.

Enormous hoopla for a deal that doesn’t give the Broncos enough money to pay one-quarter of right guard Ron Leary’s salary.

But the stadium naming rights deal does demonstrate the national visibility and image a stadium name brings to a franchise. After the Broncos and stadium district had been searching three years for a naming sponsor since Sports Authority declared bankruptcy in August 2016, the 21-year agreement with Empower came together in just three months.

“In any of these endeavors you don’t just jump in full force,’’ said Ed Murphy III, Empower’s chief executive officer. “You think about it, you evaluate your different options and we certainly were doing that. We have other relationships in the sports arena.’’

Indeed, Empower will continue to honor its multiyear sponsorship deals with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, areas where the company has its next two largest branches.

“I’d say initially we looked at it (becoming the stadium name sponsor) and we weren’t sure it was the right thing to do back in late-2017, early 2018,’’ Murphy said. “But as time progressed and we spent more time with the Broncos and more time evaluating whether this is a good long-term investment for us, we came to the realization that it was. It was a fairly deliberate process but we got to the right place.’’

The Broncos thought they were close to a naming rights deal with another company in March, but that deal fell through. Negotiations with Empower didn’t begin in earnest until June.

“One of our motivations was to get something done by the start of the regular season this year because then you guys would stop asking questions about it,’’ Ellis said to laughter. “There was a personal motivation there and we achieved that so that’s a good thing.’’

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