Joining a slew of other companies that have bought their way onto the marquees of sports facilities, Banc One Corp. said it has agreed to put up $35 million for the right to put its name on a new complex planned for Columbus, Ohio - the largest U.S. city without a major professional sports franchise.

"Since this is our hometown and we are very interested in marketing the Banc One brand name nationally, this was an ideal opportunity for us," said John A. Russell, a Banc One spokesman.

The $97 billion-asset bank is part of a growing group of large banks in the country that have found stadium financing, either through naming rights or syndicated construction loans, a lucrative niche.

The other leading players include Chase Manhattan Corp., Fleet Financial Group Inc., NationsBank Corp., First Union Corp., and J.P. Morgan & Co. Just two months ago, for example, Chase Manhattan secured the lead financing role for a $140 million loan for a stadium being built for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

Banc One is not new to the business. It recently helped finance new stadiums for professional sports teams in Phoenix and Denver, Mr. Russell said.

"This is not the type of action that will show a bottom-line impact any time in the near future," said Michael Mayo, bank analyst at Lehman Brothers. "But the hope is that by improving name recognition, it will lead to improved customer awareness and higher revenue down the road."

More banks have jumped into the market in recent years because more stadiums are being built. In the past four years alone, for example, 23 new professional sports arenas or stadiums have been built, and another 31 are in the pipeline.

The proposed Columbus complex would include a 21,000-seat arena for basketball and hockey and a 10,000-seat multipurpose stadium, with a retail mall in between, Mr. Russell said.

The project is estimated to cost $278 million, about 80% of which would be financed publicly and the rest through Banc One and food vendors who would do business at the site, he said.

If voters approve a 0.5% tax hike to finance the project this spring, Banc One would begin the first of its annual $2 million payments, scheduled for the next 18 years. The complex is expected to open in 2000.

As for getting a big-league team to relocate to Columbus, that's another question. A National Hockey League team is considered the most likely candidate. In the meantime, the complex would be home to existing local hockey and basketball franchises.

"This decision is not based on getting a professional team here," said Mr. Russell. "It's based on the activity in the town that will already support it. An NHL team or a basketball team, that would be icing on the cake."

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