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Mayor signs major deal for Civic Center naming rights

SPAM Center announced Monday by Mayor Jerry Autrey with Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar.

Amid the gloomy news of the pandemic and the economic havoc to follow, Batesville officials received one piece of good news this week when they heard that Mayor Jerry Autrey has finished negotiations with several major companies for the naming rights of the Batesville Civic Center.

“I worked long and hard on this project and it was a tough decision, but I’m proud to announce that Batesville will soon be home to the SPAM Center,” Autrey said. “This is a company that everybody knows about and everybody recognizes. We are going to paint the whole civic center blue with yellow trim and it will have a big yellow sign that says SPAM Center.”

Autrey said he envisions the SPAM Center as Batesville’s version of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “That’s what I kept thinking about during the negotiations with all these companies is how we need to make our civic center stand out. When the representatives from Spam showed me all they had planned, and the color schemes, I knew this was the corporate partner the people of Batesville would be proud to join.”

SPAM was introduced by Hormel in 1937 and its been a popular American food since, especially in Hawaii. Advertised as SPAM “Sizzle, Pork, and Mmm,” the company says there are 12.8 cans of the product eaten every second. There are now 15 different varieties of SPAM sold in 44 countries.

There is a SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, that attracts hundreds of thousands visitors each year. The Mayor said he plans to visit the museum as soon as it opens again.

Details were still sketchy, but Autrey said the contract he signed Monday was a “four figure deal” and the City of Batesville will get a check once a year.

Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow was surprised at the announcement, indicating the board had previously received an offer of more than $10,000 a month from the McDonald’s Corporation for the naming rights.

“I’m really not sure why we settled for so much less money, but the mayor reminded me that everyone likes Spam. He said he noticed in the grocery stores in the past two weeks that people seem to buy a lot of Spam, and that was a fact I wasn’t aware of,” Morrow said.

“Everybody I know is glad to have the Civic Center here, but I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that it’s too plain. I think this is a step in the right direction to put the civic center and Batesville on the map and start attracting some big name concerts and shows,” he said. “I don’t know why we couldn’t have Disney on Ice or something like that here.”

Autrey said Morrow was correct that other companies had offered more money, but Spam has just four letters and is easier to remember. “With SPAM as the sponsor, we will only have four letters to keep looking nice, instead of a bunch with some other companies. Besides, we already have two  McDonald’s in Batesville and we didn’t need another one.”

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar was also excited about the naming rights deal.

“I constantly work with industry about locating in Panola County and something that always comes up during discussions is what type of unique or non-traditional factor about Batesville can be used to impress potential business partners,” Azar said. “This definitely gives me something no other city in the United States can offer. Can you imagine what great events could be held at the SPAM Center?”

Azar said because SPAM is so popular in Hawaii, also the home of Sumo wrestling in the U.S., he will also work to have major Sumo tournaments brought to Batesville and the SPAM Center. “The possibilities are really endless,” he said.

Azar also noted the SPAM Center can also be paired with The Concourse project that is in the first stages of transforming the old Factory Outlet mall into a workforce development satellite campus of Northwest Mississippi Community College.

“I can imagine Batesville having major food conventions here with the draw of the Spam Center,” Azar said. “We are already in touch with some big-name chefs who may want to bring some cooking shows or Food Network-type thing here. I’m asking everyone in Batesville and Panola County to get behind the SPAMCenter and let’s do our part by buying extra cans and making SPAM part of our families’ dinner choices at least three nights a week.”

Alderman Stan Harrison said he has been eating SPAM since he was a child and knows the company has a lion’s share of the processed luncheon product available in an airtight metal package.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and never thought Batesville could get something like the SPAM Center. It’s a real honor. My only complaint with SPAM is they have so many choices now it’s hard to make your mind up. When I was a kid we just had one kind of SPAM, and I guess it’s still my favorite today,” Harrison said.

The alderman/Mexican restaurant owner said he has already ordered new menus for Cafe Ole’ that will feature Jalapeño SPAM tacos and SPAM with cheesy rice at the top. “Who knows, I may paint my whole restaurant blue I’m so excited.”

Panola County Board of Supervisors Cole Flint heard about the naming rights deal after the final contract was signed. He congratulated Autrey for getting the deal done, agreeing that SPAM was probably the best fit for the City and the aldermen.

“I was thinking they should sell the name to Libby’s for the Vienna Center, but I don’t know if those city boys could spell Vienna. SPAM fits them best anyway,” Flint said.

Autrey said he believes the negotiation for the naming rights, and the ultimate deal with SPAM will be a crowning achievement for his tenure as mayor.

“I just want to tell everyone to eat more SPAM and have a happy April 1st,” the mayor said.