Citigroup says Mets naming rights deal still in place

CHICAGO Fri Nov 21, 2008 7:11pm EST

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The New York Mets and Citigroup Inc said on Friday the naming rights deal the struggling banking giant has for the baseball team's new ballpark remains in place.

The 20-year deal, announced two years ago, was reported to be a record $400 million and entailed naming the new stadium Citi Field after it opened in 2009 in the New York borough of Queens, adjacent to the team's old home, Shea Stadium.

"There is no change in regard to Citi's commitment to the new ballpark," Mets spokesman Jay Horowitz said in an email.

Citigroup spokesman Steve Silverman said: "We remain committed to our relationship with the Mets. It's an important marketing priority for us."

Citigroup shares tumbled for the fifth straight day on Friday as Chief Executive Vikram Pandit tried to downplay speculation the second largest U.S. bank by assets may sell major businesses to restore its health and investor confidence.

The company's shares have lost more than half their value this week, and investors widely wonder if the government will have to offer some form of additional assistance to what was once the largest bank in the world.

Earlier in the week, Citigroup set plans to shed 52,000 of its 352,000 jobs by early 2009 and move tens of billions of dollars in troubled securities onto its balance sheet.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that Citigroup was weighing options, including a sale of parts of the company or a merger with another company.

The financial sector, a big investor in the sports industry through naming rights deals, sponsorships and the purchase of stadium suites and season tickets, has been battered by exposure to toxic mortgage debt and the fast weakening U.S. economy.

Many sports have begun to feel the economic pinch, resulting in layoffs and other cost-cutting measures. Major League Baseball froze its budget for 2009 and several teams have maintained or even cut ticket prices for next season amid signs of worry.

DHL Express, a sponsor for both Major League Baseball and several teams, has approached at least one club to request the early termination of its sponsorship agreement. DHL's parent, Deutsche Post AG, said on November 10 it would slash 9,500 jobs and halt U.S. domestic services at DHL.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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