IN SHELLING OUT $30 MILLION to plaster its name over a new Boston sports arena, Shawmut National Corp. is taking a calculated gamble.

The price tag is big, but the advertising influence over millions of Boston sports fans may be immeasurable.

Shawmut signed a 15-year deal last week to be the chief sponsor of the new Boston Garden, which is scheduled to open Oct. 3, 1995.

The $2 million-a-year agreement gives Shawmut the right to name the future home of the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics -- it will be called Shawmut Center -- and to emblazon its name on tickets, scoreboards, and clocks.

Viewers of Bruins hockey games will also glimpse the bank name in full color on center ice and on rink sideboards.

Shawmut even has the option of stamping beer cups with its name -- a decision that is still being weighed.

While it's hard to quantify the return on any marketing venture, some experts applaud Shawmut's decision as strategically and economically sound.

With spot television commercials and newspaper ads running into six figures, the annual cost of the sports arena deal is comparatively small. On the other hand, the benefits of getting your name before thousands of fans every day in one of crazed markets seem boundless.

"The amount of money sort of astounded everybody, but in a year or two people will probably look back and say this was a brilliant move," said Terrence McCarthy, principal of the Boston public relations firm Agnew, Carter & McCarthy.

Rivals Conduct Splashy Campaigns

Shawmut, he said, has been outmarketed in Boston by its major competitors, Bank of Boston Corp. and Fleet Financial Group, both of which competed for the stadium deal.

Since assuming most of the assets and deposits of the failed Bank of New England Corp. in 1991, Fleet has been blanketing Boston with ads introducing itself.

Bank of Boston has been conducting a lavish publicity campaign for its $6 billion lending commitment to New England businesses. Shawmut, by comparison, has been relatively silent.

Power of a Household Name

"The power of getting your name into the vernacular of the community is priceless," said Hal Tovin, a senior vice president in charge of marketing at Shawmut..

He predicts that the bank's name will appear regularly on local sports pages and broadcasts. Mr. Tovin, who said his advertising budget has not been increased to cover the deal, suggested that the $2 million-a-year stadium plan represents about 10% of Shawmut's total advertising budget.

His vision assumes, of course, that Shawmut will be around for the long term. If it gets acquired, as many on Wall Street believe, things get much more complicated. BankAmerica Center, many locals think, doesn't have the same ring to it.

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