Maybe a better question is, What is a name worth? If you’re the family of Avery Fisher and New York’s Lincoln Center, a name is worth at least $15 million … and perhaps $100 million or more.
For years, Lincoln Center has wanted to renovate Avery Fisher Hall, which is infamous for its subpar acoustics and poor sight lines. The project is expected to cost about a half billion dollars. Lincoln Center believes that an angel donor will be needed to kickstart the project, and that the Angel donor will want naming rights for the hall. As might be expected, Avery Fisher’s family has threatened to sue if Avery Fisher Hall is renamed.
Avery Fisher was an electronic pioneer whose $10.5 million donation allowed Lincoln Center to renovate the New York Symphony’s concert hall, which now bears his name. So why has Lincoln Center agreed to pay Fisher’s family $15 million? To give up its claim on the name of the hall. Indeed, Lincoln Center expects that the naming rights can fetch a donation of $100 million or more, the amount donated by David H. Koch to the New York State Theater, now known as the David H. Koch Theater.
Does it surprise you that Lincoln Center is willing to pay the Fisher family more than the amount Avery Fisher donated in the first place? It certainly has surprised the nonprofit legal community. The details of the deal have yet to be released. Perhaps the payment is a settlement to the Fisher family in order to avoid litigation. Indeed, threatened lawsuits in the last several years against universities that tore down or renamed buildings funded with donations from as far back as the Civil War era have resulted in major payouts by the universities.
Nowadays, donations with naming rights and other rights to donors come with detailed contracts that specify the period in which the donee may not change the name and the rights the donor or successors receive if the name is changed or the building is damaged.
If you’re concerned about a donation that includes naming rights or other perks for the donor, whether you are a donor or the recipient nonprofit, please contact us. The Law Firm for Non-Profits has deep experience in this area.