RSL: Rio Tinto a perfect match

Team head says link with mine giant brings credibility
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SANDY - From start to finish, it only took 42 days for Real Salt Lake and Rio Tinto to reach an agreement to put the mining giant's name on the soccer team's new stadium.

Evidence, said Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts, that the partnership was meant to be.

And why not, he added at Monday's formal unveiling of naming rights for the $110 million stadium. Rio Tinto's local subsidiary, Kennecott Utah Copper, has been a major mover-and-shaker in the Salt Lake Valley for more than a century. And while the parent company's name may not be well-known here, it is all around the soccer-loving world, from its headquarters in London to its mining operations on every inhabited continent.

"We have found, in every way, the perfect partner," said Checketts in a ceremony on the north plaza of the stadium, which will open Oct. 9 with a nationally televised RSL game against New York. That plaza soon will be equipped with powerful spotting scopes that will afford close-up views across the Salt Lake Valley of Rio Tinto's most visible local asset, the Bingham Canyon mine.

Neither Checketts nor Rio Tinto Copper CEO Brett Clayton would discuss the value or length of the naming rights contract, citing confidentiality clauses in the agreement. Kennecott spokeswoman Jana Kettering disputed the accuracy of Salt Lake Tribune sources who put the figure at $1.5 million to $2 million annually for 15 years. She declined to provide alternate numbers.

All Checketts would say is "it's a very good deal for both sides."

From Real Salt Lake's perspective, said team president Bill Manning, the association with "a world-class company gives us credibility."

For Rio Tinto, having its name on the stadium will enhance the company's ongoing efforts to establish its name more vividly in the public consciousness, following up on its sponsorship of the new Utah Museum of Natural History, which will be known as the Rio Tinto Center.

"This sponsorship is one way of giving back to a community where we live and work," said Kennecott Utah Copper President Andrew Harding. "We're here to stay."

As late as mid-July, however, the naming rights issue was up in the air.

Checketts said he had been involved in preliminary discussions with three other companies when he got a call from an old friend - Richard Horne, executive director of the R. Harold Burton Foundation - suggesting Rio Tinto. Horne noted that its copper division was headed by Clayton, a Skyline High School and University of Utah graduate.

Checketts called him. A meeting was arranged. Over the next six days, two more meetings were held with different mining company executives. RSL's Manning and Rio Tinto's Gina Crezée then hammered out the initial details, basically reaching a deal by Sept. 8, subject to dotting I's and crossing T's on the final contract.

Besides providing "a really cool name for a stadium - Real at Rio," Checketts said the now-finalized partnership conjured up childhood memories for him of watching movies on television during "Kennecott Neighborhood Theater," of peering down into the open-pit mine on Cub Scout trips and marveling at the height of the Kennecott Building in downtown Salt Lake City.

Now, he predicted, the stadium's name "will be part of countless childhood memories for years to come."

Rio Tinto facts

* Company formed by investors in 1873 to mine ancient copper workings at Rio Tinto in southern Spain. Merged with an Australian company in 1962.

* Acquired Kennecott Utah Copper in 1989.

* One of the largest mining companies in the world, producing copper, iron ore, aluminium, coal, diamonds, uranium and industrial minerals.

* 65,000 employees, 2,500 in Utah.

* Facing possible acquisition by BHP Billiton.