PHOENIX >> The arena that is home to the Phoenix Suns is losing its US Airways Center name.
The move comes after Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways merged last year with American Airlines in a deal that will eventually lead to the phasing out of the US Airways brand.
American Airlines Group Inc., the Texas-based company formed by December’s merger, says the decision will allow the new combined entity to maximize the value of its arena-naming rights in other cities, including Dallas and Miami.
The Phoenix stadium has been called the US Airways Center for nearly a decade, but the naming-rights agreement is set to end in October 2015.
American Airlines this week signed a waiver that allows the Suns to begin seeking a new sponsor immediately, even before the current contract expires, airline spokesman Andrew Christie said on Wednesday.
“If they don’t find a new sponsor before that time, we will honor our commitment through October 2015,” Christie said.
He declined to say how much US Airways had paid for the naming rights, and added that American has no plans to take its name off the American Airlines Center in Dallas, home to the NBA’s Mavericks and the NHL’s Stars, and the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, where the NBA’s Heat plays.
The company said maintaining naming rights in Phoenix, given its other arenas, wasn’t the best use of the airline’s promotional resources.
Phoenix Suns President Jason Rowley said the move wasn’t a surprise.
“We’re seeing this as an opportunity,” Rowley said, adding that the team has already received unsolicited inquiries from interested sponsorship parties. He declined to name the companies.
“There’s just a wide range so we’re not going to limit ourselves to who we’d be willing to talk to about it,” he said. “We want to have a partner that reflects well on us and reflects well on the community.”
Naming-rights experts also were not surprised by American Airlines’ announcement.
“They’ve already got two — the one in Miami and the one in Dallas — and both are hubs for them,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. “You don’t really need three. Plus, Miami and Dallas are much larger markets than Phoenix.”
Ganis said it might be a hard sell for the Suns as they look for a new sponsor for a deal that could cost up to $120 million over a potential 15-year contract.
“These are always difficult sales unless you have an obvious candidate,” he said, adding that possibly “an Indian casino may well be the best positioned in the case of the Phoenix Suns.”
“There is no locally based airline. That just doesn’t exist right now in Phoenix,” Ganis said. “You could go to the banking industry, but that business is limited in Phoenix, as well … They’re going to have to go looking.”
AP Airlines Writer David Koenig contributed to this report from Dallas.