THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

A timeout for bank in renaming Garden

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ross Kerber
Globe Staff / June 12, 2008

The NBA Finals provide a tremendous marketing opportunity for the companies that spend millions to plaster their names on the arenas of the competing teams - if those companies aren't changing their names.

But TD Banknorth, which holds the naming rights to the arena used by the Boston Celtics, plans to change its name following its recent $8.5 billion purchase of Commerce Bancorp Inc. of New Jersey. The trouble is, TD Banknorth and its parent, Toronto-Dominion Bank, haven't said what the new name will be, other than that the arena now known as TD Banknorth Garden will retain the "TD" and the name "Garden" in some form, a bow to sports fans with fond memories of the Celtics' former home, Boston Garden.

Bank officials said in March that the new name of the combined organization would be TD Commerce Bank, though they did not commit to using that name on the Garden. According to the terms of the $6 million-a-year naming-rights deal signed with Garden owner Delaware North Cos. in 2004, the bank is al lowed to change the name on the arena once without penalty. The pact runs through 2025.

But a small Worcester competitor, the 12-branch Commerce Bank & Trust Co., sued the Canadian bank, which has 1,100 branches. Commerce won an injunction from a federal judge prohibiting TD from using the term "Commerce Bank" in much of Massachusetts - including Suffolk County, home of the arena - because customers might become confused.

Several sports marketing specialists say the squabbling creates something of a missed opportunity for the bank, which could have used the attention focused on the Celtics and their home arena to publicize its new name.

Jon Hickey, senior vice president of Wenham advertising agency Mullen, called the NBA Finals "the highest-profile event at the Garden" since the Democratic National Convention, which was held there in the summer of 2004.

Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College specialist on the business of sports, said a shorter new name would be better than TD Banknorth Garden, which he called too long to be catchy. "You might as well recite the first three pages of the Book of Genesis," he said.

This month, the bank began telling customers that its new legal name will be "TD Bank." Bank spokesman Neil Parmenter said the bank is studying how it might respond to the injunction, and wouldn't rule out using that name on the arena itself.

He said the company has been using the name "TD Bank" in filings to regulators since the start of this year, well before Commerce Bank sued. He said the company has no plans to make TD Bank its operating name and said even without the injunction it wouldn't have been able to change the name on the arena in time for the Celtics series because of approvals it would need from basketball and hockey officials and Delaware North.

The bank plans to operate Northeastern branches under the TD Banknorth brand through next year in any case, he said.

"We're very comfortable with our approach. You can't just show up at the TD Banknorth Garden and change the signs," he said.

Ross Kerber can be reached at kerber@globe.com.

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