Name in Lights

Posted on February 22, 2017

The CEO who made the deal with the Kings talks about why the Golden 1 Credit Union bought naming rights to the new arena.

Photography by Kevin Fiscus

Donna Bland, president and chief executive officer of Golden 1 Credit Union, is speaking all right—but when it comes to what one of the largest financial institutions in California is paying for the naming rights to the new Kings arena, Golden 1 Center, she isn’t saying.

One has to respect that. “We have strict confidentiality rules about our customers’ accounts,” she says, “and the Kings and we have agreed to maintain those same rules about our agreement.”

Bland says this with no-nonsense patience and a warm smile. It’s a cloudless morning and the view outside the window of the Golden 1’s corporate headquarters, in the Manlove area of Sacramento County (near Folsom Boulevard and Watt Avenue), all but inspires candor and reflection.

But forget it. A secret’s a secret.

For the record—or, rather, off-the-record—the deal is said to be worth “20 over 20,” according to a source who understandably requested anonymity. The source also clarified what “20 over 20” means besides perfect eyesight: a 20-year commitment from Golden 1 of $20 million per year, and “possibly with a discussion at the 10-year mark,” presumably, to continue, abort or up the ante.

“I’d suspect there were other entities, or ‘suitors,’ but we weren’t privy to who wanted in,” Bland says. “As in all negotiations, we never know our competitors. I do know that the Kings and we felt that even if the other parties were global or national concerns, which I’m not saying they were, we’d have had a bit of an edge.” Why? “Because to a global company, Sacramento as a community might be irrelevant. To a local one, like Golden 1, we want more than just the Kings to succeed. We want the community to succeed.”

Asked about the naming rights process, Bland says, “Well, like everyone else in town, we were aware that the Kings would be looking for someone to step forward. It certainly didn’t hurt that we’ve been partnering with the team for some time. We knew each other and we trusted each other.”

Because of the enormity of the investment, Bland’s 11-member board of directors and the entire executive team at Golden 1 were involved. She says the reaction from the credit union’s members—it has nearly 800,000 throughout the state, as well as 1,500 employees—has been “overwhelming support. People seem to understand that doing this, while it has wonderful marketing possibilities for us, isn’t just about a basketball team. There will be 200 other events at the arena.”

Bland says the jobs that will be created during construction and after Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons open—as well as the indirect employment that comes when a city develops its core—mean that the credit union’s commitment to the Kings “was more about our commitment to the community.”

Bland says the Golden 1’s marketing team is already feverishly at work “brainstorming ideas for events.” She says that Golden 1 members will have early access to certain concerts and be eligible to purchase tickets before they go on the market. “The Paul McCartney concerts on Oct. 4 and 5 sold out immediately,” she says, “and many of those (tickets) were purchased by our members.”

Had the Kings remained at Sleep Train Arena (which was never likely), Bland says her organization wouldn’t have been interested in pursuing naming rights. “Renaming an existing structure doesn’t bring you much in terms of marketing,” she says. She points out that people still refer to Sleep Train Arena as Arco Arena, which wasn’t even its immediate predecessor. Wedged in-between was Power Balance Pavilion, named by the eponymous wristband company that went bankrupt when it was revealed that the product, contrary to its advertising claims, had zero healing or healthful benefits.

Bland has been in the financial services industry for more than a quarter of a century. Before being named to Golden 1’s top job, she had been the credit union’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. Just last year, the Sacramento Metro Chamber named her “Businesswoman of the Year.” A CPA, she earned her bachelor of science in accounting at San Francisco State University. She and her husband, Scott, a software developer, have two grown children and make their home in Carmichael.

She says the Golden 1, a consumer-driven nonprofit institution, has the potential to enroll 32 million people throughout California and has the state charter to serve 38 of California’s 58 counties. She says that buying the Kings arena naming rights was a member recruitment decision—not because people in, say, Fresno, will be high-fiving each other in the streets when the Kings win games but “because the more visibility we have and the more members we sign up, the better service we can provide. The efficiencies of scale are very important.”

The Golden 1, Bland says, “is always in expansion mode. In this business, you can’t just survive; you have to thrive. We’re always looking for a way to get our brand out (there). And we’re constantly evolving.”