Citigroup-Mets deal appears to be on

NEW YORK -- The New York Mets and financially troubled Citigroup said Tuesday that their $400 million naming rights deal for the team's new stadium is still on, despite a published report that Citi may be looking to back out.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Citigroup was exploring the possibility of backing out of the 20-year marketing partnership, which includes naming the new ballpark Citi Field. The report quoted unnamed people familiar with the matter as saying Citigroup had made no final decision.

Citigroup Inc. received $45 billion in federal bailout aid and late last year and said it planned to cut 53,000 jobs worldwide.

"Citi signed a legally binding agreement with the New York Mets in 2006," the company said in a statement, adding that none of the bailout money will be used for Citi Field.

"Citi is fully committed to their contract," Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said. "We're fully committed to them. There's no change in status whatsoever."

Two members of Congress said last week that in light of the bailout, the Obama administration should pressure Citi and the Mets to drop the deal.

"At Citigroup, 50,000 people will lose their jobs. Yet in the boardroom of Citigroup, spending $400 million to put a name on stadium seems like a good idea," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat. Kucinich and Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, made their pitch in a letter to Department of the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Other sports marketing deals also face potential scrutiny.

Bank of America, the recipient of another $45 billion in federal bailout aid, reportedly pays $7 million a year for Bank of America Stadium, home to football's Carolina Panthers, and has been negotiating with the New York Yankees for a $20 million marketing deal that would not include stadium naming rights.

Speaking at a news conference announcing a $36 million, three-year contract with pitcher Oliver Perez, Wilpon said Citi should not be highlighted when other corporations also are receiving billions of dollars in federal funds, as well.

"I think they're unfairly, right now, singled out," he said.

Both Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium are due to open in April at sites adjacent to the teams' old ballparks.

The Citi Field sign is already affixed to the Mets' nearly completed stadium in Queens, and the team is marketing Citi Field as a venue for corporate events, weddings and bar mitzvahs.

William Chipps, senior editor at the Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship report, a newsletter that covers sports and entertainment marketing, said companies buy stadium naming rights because they are good business and not just because executives like to see their corporate names on 15-foot signs.

"Naming rights deals have been a very profitable platform," Chipps said. "The challenge is overcoming consumer perceptions that this is a throwaway."

But Anthony Sabino, a professor of law and business at St. John's University in New York, said Citigroup should back out of the Mets deal even if it has to pay a sizable breakup fee.

"Citi has to realize that they are in part now owned by the American taxpayer," said Sabino, who identified himself as a die-hard Mets fan. "It just doesn't look good for Citi to be firing people and yet having the embellishment of their name on a brand-new spanking ballpark."