Sprint Field? It's unlikely, at least not for the near future, as the naming rights of the home of the beloved White Sox took center stage Wednesday after U.S. Cellular Corp. announced it would sell its spectrum in the Chicago market to Sprint Nextel Corp. and cut hundreds of jobs.
Sprint is acquiring spectrum and customers from U.S. Cellular in Chicago and other markets, and is not purchasing or involved in its marketing rights or initiatives, said Sprint spokesman Scott M. Sloat.
The name U.S. Cellular Field was brokered by U.S. Cellular's former CEO John "Jack" Rooney, who signed the 23-year deal in 2003 for $68 million. Rooney, a Wheaton resident at the time, died in July 2011 at age 69.
So will Sprint consider changing the name of the ballpark in the future?
"All I can tell you is it isn't part of this transaction," Sloat said.
Dave Kimbell, senior vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer of U.S. Cellular, confirmed that "the Cell" likely will continue.
"At U.S. Cellular, we are proud of our partnership with the Chicago White Sox and the experience fans have at U.S. Cellular Field," said Kimbell. "We will continue to be headquartered here in Chicago and our enthusiasm for Chicago sports remains the same. Our naming rights to the ballpark are not a part of this deal with Sprint. The White Sox are a great partner and we look forward to continuing our relationship with them."
White Sox spokesman Lou Hernandez also confirmed there are no plans to change the name of the ballpark.
Sprint, the third-largest U.S. cellphone carrier, said Wednesday it's buying the spectrum and 585,000 customers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. That's about 10 percent of U.S. Cellular's customer base.
U.S. Cellular said 980 jobs will be lost with the sale, including about 640 in the Chicago region. Sprint isn't taking over any employees. U.S. Cellular's headquarters will stay in Chicago. The company's remaining network spans states that include Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, Maine and North Carolina.
Analyst Christopher King at Stifel Nicolaus said that while Sprint's offer seems fair, "we believe the spectrum in Chicago and St. Louis represented a portion of the most valuable assets that U.S. Cellular had," and investors were banking on a better return for it. Finding a buyer for the rest of the company will be more difficult now, he said.
The acquisition should boost Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint's data capacity and speeds in the Midwest. It doesn't have as much available spectrum, or space on the airwaves, as the larger carriers do for its new "4G LTE" network, which holds back its speeds.
U.S. Cellular is the country's sixth-largest wireless carrier, with 5.8 million devices on its network. As wireless data speeds become more and more important to customers, smaller carriers like U.S. Cellular are finding it hard to compete against the biggest carriers, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, and it's been losing high-paying customers at a slow but steady rate for the last three years.
The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval, and is expected to close in the middle of next year.
Also on Wednesday, U.S. Cellular said its third-quarter net income dropped 43 percent, as the company subsidized sales of new smartphones. U.S. Cellular earned $35.5 million, or 42 cents per share, down from $62.1 million, or 73 cents per share, in the same quarter last year. Revenue rose 3 percent to $1.14 billion.
•Associated Press contributed to this story.