After weeks of negotiations, the Boston Celtics basketball team has chosen a new banker-the Massachusetts subsidiary of Citizens Financial Group, Providence, R.I.
Citizens, whose banking package comes with extensive sponsorship and marketing rights, takes the place of BankBoston Corp., which had the oldest relationship with the Celtics, and Fleet Financial Group, which had a more recent one with the team.
The reasons were basically financial, according to bankers close to the negotiations. But Citizens Financial chairman, president, and chief executive officer Lawrence K. Fish played down that aspect in an interview last week.
"This was never about money, really," Mr. Fish said. "The marketing money spent is less than 5% of our annual marketing budget. It had to do with the chemistry between the team and the bank."
Although Citizens and the Celtics would not reveal the financial details, sources said the $16 billion-asset banking company would pay $6 million over five years to be a team sponsor.
Citizens will get:
Signs inside FleetCenter where the team plays its home games. (Fleet Financial Group inherited the arena's naming rights when it bought Shawmut National Corp. in 1995.)
The ability to dispense Celtics tickets through the bank's 400 automated teller machines.
Use of Celtics players and coaches to give seminars to small-business customers.
Participation in the Celtics' summer kids program.
The marketing agreement also stipulates that the Celtics' head coach, Rick Pitino, will become a spokesman for the bank.
Those close to the negotiations said getting Mr. Pitino was a coup for Citizens. Mr. Pitino, until last season the basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, is a local Boston celebrity. All eyes are on his efforts to reverse the Celtics' recently sagging fortunes on the court.
The one-time perennial National Basketball Association champions finished last in their division last year.
According to an official at one of the competing banks, "Any contract with Rick Pitino would have been extra"-over and above the $6 million the Celtics wanted for a sponsorship.
On the banking side of the deal, the Celtics organization will use Citizens as its primary bank for cash management, payroll, credit facilities, and private banking for players and coaches. Bankers put the annual revenue from the Celtics relationship at about $250,000.
That was not enough for BankBoston and Fleet.
BankBoston "looked hard at the numbers and simply couldn't make them work," said executive vice president Ira Jackson. The $66 billion-asset company had a marketing and banking relationship with the team from 1984 to 1994. BankBoston is currently a sponsor of the New England Patriots football team.
Fleet, which inherited its relationship with the Celtics along with the naming rights to the Boston Garden in 1995, said it also backed out for financial reasons.
"We had been paying between $650,000 and $800,000 per year for three years" under the former marketing relationship with the team, said Fleet spokesman James Mahoney. "We already had the name on the building, the scoreboard inside, our name on every ticket. We get an enormous amount of tickets because of our relationship with the arena. The incremental value to us just wasn't worth it."
But several observers said the deal made a lot of sense for Citizens. It can use the relationship to boost its image in Massachusetts, where it plays third fiddle to BankBoston and Fleet.
Mr. Fish is thrilled with the deal. "This is a three-pointer for us," he said.
"We couldn't get the name of the Center changed. But this is a big day for Citizens. We've lined up the top brand in New England to help elevate the name recognition of our growing company."