AllState to be new Sugar Bowl sponsor

NEW ORLEANS -- At a time when the insurance industry is
under heavy criticism for its slow and often contentious dealings
with Hurricane Katrina victims, one of the nation's largest
insurance companies has become the title sponsor of this city's
best known annual sporting event.

AllState will be the new title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl for at
least the next four college football seasons, officials announced

"It's clear to everyone that the world is watching this region,
and as it continues to rebuild, a lot of companies have to step up
and say they're going to make a long-term commitment to this
area," Allstate Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi said.

The Sugar Bowl, which brings an estimated $300 million in
economic activity to New Orleans, had to be moved to Atlanta last
January because of storm-related damage to both New Orleans hotels
and the Louisiana Superdome.

However, many hotels have since reopened, the dome is expected
to be repaired in time for the coming football season and Sugar
Bowl officials already have returned to temporary offices a few
miles away from their old ones inside the Superdome.

Nokia has been the title sponsor of the game the past 12
seasons, but its contract runs out this spring. Officials with the
Sugar Bowl and AllState declined to discuss financial details of
their deal, other than to say it was well into the seven-figure

Sugar Bowl chief executive officer Paul Hoolahan said he was
impressed by AllState's willingness to work with the Sugar Bowl in
the face of so much ill-will locally toward the insurance industry.

"A lot of people would be ducking to go up on that stage with
some of the issues that local people are having with their own
insurance companies," Hoolahan said. "These folks are willing to
come up and basically take a stand, go up on the podium and say,
'We're here to help, and we want to be a part of the recovery.' …
And that to me takes guts and courage and I think it's a good

Tripodi said that while AllState is not perfect and may have
some frustrated customers in the region, the company has settled 90
percent of its claims, paying out about $3 billion in Louisiana
since Katrina.

"There'll probably be some detractors. ... It probably is a
little difficult for people to see it, but it really is about us
trying to show our long-term commitment to the area," Tripodi
said. "New Orleans is a very important city in America. It's a
city that cannot be abandoned by this country."

Hoolahan said the deal was critical to keeping the Sugar Bowl in
the high-profile Bowl Championship Series, in which payouts to
participants are growing astronomically.

Hoolahan said he expected payouts to next year's participants to
exceed $13 million.

"It's getting very competitive to stay in the top tier," he
said, adding that ticket prices likely would have to go up.

The last time the game was in New Orleans, prices ranged from
$85 to $105. Hoolahan said prices for premium seats next year could
be as high as $125 or $150, with lower prices in upper sections of
the stadium.

Dignitaries invited to attend the announcement included Mayor
Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who will be Nagin's
competitor in April's mayoral elections here. They were placed
side-by-side on the podium and were invited to speak, one after the

The shook hands, smiled and both kept their comments brief,
largely avoiding politics.

"Basically it sends a message to the world that we're alive and
well," Landrieu said of the Sugar Bowl announcement, which came
less than a month after the conclusion of a successful Mardi Gras
celebration. "It continues to send the message to people that we
can stand up [and host] major cultural and sporting events."

Nagin called the bowl game announcement "just one of many that
seem to be coming for New Orleans."

"Louisiana has gone through a lot, but now we're in a position
where we're starting to see some momentum and flow," Nagin said.
"We are hitting somewhat of a tipping point, if you will, and I
look forward to the future in New Orleans."