Victor Ciardelli says the Chicago White Sox prepared him for the backlash that followed the announcement that the team's stadium will be renamed Guaranteed Rate Field, after his company.
As news of the change triggered the trending Twitter hashtag #BetterSoxStadium, the founder and CEO of the mortgage lending company with the big red down-pointing arrow as a logo says he's actually excited about the negative reaction.
"It helps build brand awareness for us," says Ciardelli, a Hinsdale resident. "It's spectacular. Who would have thought the down arrow would create such a story?"
So yes, that arrow -- representative of the company's dedication to giving people the lowest interest rates possible on a mortgage -- is here to stay at the South Side stadium. Ciardelli says the White Sox have told him they plan to make a correlation between the downward arrow and pitchers' efforts to keep their ERAs low.
The 13-year naming rights agreement between the White Sox and Guaranteed Rate announced Wednesday is the latest example of what Ciardelli describes as a lifelong ambition to "scale something of a sizable basis."
Aspirations to take the business world by storm began when Ciardelli was 10 and his parents bought the Oak Brook home of Wayne Huizenga, the man behind Waste Management, Blockbuster Video and Auto Nation.
"I knew of Wayne and what he was able to do, growing a garbage hauling business into a Fortune 500 company, then repeating that success with Blockbuster," Ciardelli said. "I honestly thought it showed what someone with ambition and drive could accomplish. I thought at a young age, 'Why can't I be the same?'"
Ciardelli, now a 50-year-old father of four, says he stumbled a bit -- first as a poor student at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard (where he played football and basketball, but not baseball) and later struggling with a mortgage services company he founded in 1992.
Ciardelli eventually retooled his business model and in 2000 started a new company, called Guaranteed Rate, focusing on a three-pronged business strategy -- low overhead and automation to provide homebuyers with lower rates; resources and coaching to help real estate partners build their own businesses; and training, technology and a work environment designed to help loan officers close more loans.
According to the company, Guaranteed Rate, based on Chicago's North Side, funded $18 billion in home loans last year and is ranked as one of the top 10 mortgage lenders in the nation. Ciardelli says a key part of his effort to move up to No. 1 is getting the name out there.
Ciardelli, who describes himself as "going to more sporting events than anyone I know," says he was approached by the White Sox about three months ago about purchasing naming rights for U.S. Cellular Field.
"We got a call from (White Sox Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer) Brooks Boyer who asked if we'd have an interest in naming rights. ... We said absolutely. It was fast. We moved really quickly. It probably took six weeks."
U.S. Cellular originally had a naming rights deal with the stadium through 2023, but left the market in 2012 after a sale to Sprint Nextel.
Financial details weren't disclosed, but the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates the park, is expected to get more than $6.4 million through the deal.
With U.S. Cellular commonly known to fans as "the Cell," Ciardelli says he's leaving it to fans to determine a new nickname for the stadium, with "The Rate" and "Grate" among those gathering momentum.
His immediate focus is helping fill the stadium's seats with Guaranteed Rate customers.
"We want to do more for our customer base, have some fun and build some buzz. I don't think our customer base ... that they're the ones tweeting and doing and saying all the things."