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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ-Continental Airlines has opted out of its sponsorship of its namesake arena here, a deal that dates back 14 years and has generated $1.3 million a year in cash and airline tickets for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. The latter operates the state-owned 20,000-seat venue, as well as the adjacent Giants Stadium and Meadowlands Race Track.

The decision follows the move by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils to the new Prudential Arena in Newark, the departure of Seton Hall University basketball to the same venue and the pending move by the NBA’s New Jersey Nets to a new arena in Brooklyn, NY. Those moves effectively leave the 26-year-old arena anchorless.

“The purpose of our sponsorship was to gain exposure to major league sports fans,” says a statement by David Messing, of the Houston-based Continental Airlines, which uses the nearby Newark Liberty International Airport as one of its major hubs. “With the absence of major league sports, the sponsorship no longer aligns with our marketing goals.”

And the NJSEA has already issued an RFP, effectively putting the ongoing naming rights up for grabs. Authority officials say they are looking for a higher dollar number for those rights this time around, although with no major league team on-site, that could difficult, observers say. One possible incentive is that the facility sits next to the under-construction Meadowlands Xanadu retail and entertainment complex.

“Although the NJSEA has received inquiries about the arena naming rights from a number of companies, we want this process to be as open and broad as possible to reach the greatest number of potential partners,” says George Zoffinger, the authority’s president and CEO. The NJSEA has set a deadline of 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 for sealed proposals.

The Devils and Nets have cut substantial deals for the naming rights to their respective new venues. Prudential is paying $105 million over 20 years for the naming rights to the Devils’ new arena in Newark; and Barclays’ package for the naming rights to the Nets’ new arena, slated to open in Brooklyn in two years, is said to be in excess of $300 million.

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