The sad story of the stadium named Dr Pepper for no good reason

A reader this weekend sent me this otherwise-innocuous article from 2019, which halfway through veers into discussing a stadium naming-rights deal gone wrong. Or, depending on your perspective, gone very very right:

If nothing changes before opening day on April 4, for the second consecutive season the team will play in a Dr Pepper Ballpark that is no longer technically Dr Pepper Ballpark.

After a 15-year relationship, the Plano-based soft drink company didn’t renew its sponsorship with the RoughRiders when its contract expired Oct. 1, 2017. …

Though it stopped paying for the privilege 16 months ago, Dr Pepper’s signage remains up throughout the RoughRiders’ stadium and the “Dr Pepper Stadium” name and logo is still prominent on the team’s website and promotional materials.

The Dallas Observer omits a few details here, so let’s back up a second. The Frisco RoughRiders of the Double-A Texas League are the former Shreveport Swamp Dragons of the Double-A Texas League, whose owner, then-Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, relocated them in 2003 after getting the city of Frisco to build him a new 10,000-seat stadium. The city put up $67 million in future tax kickbacks toward the project, with Hicks kicking in another $233 million, though a lot of that wasn’t for the stadium but rather for the mixed-use development Hicks built around the stadium. (And was later sued by one of his partners over, before ending up going bankrupt and selling all his sports teams, but that is one if not several other stories.)

Though the city of Frisco helped pay for the park’s construction and owns the building — the better for Hicks not to pay property taxes on it — Hicks kept the revenue for himself, including any cash raised by selling naming rights to the RoughRiders’ new home. (Selling naming rights to buildings you don’t own is standard business practice among sports team owners, apparently for no better reason than that sports team owners tell city officials that it’s standard business practice.) Dr Pepper/Seven Up, which had its headquarters in neighboring Plano, stepped up with a 15-year offer for an undisclosed amount of money to name the new ballpark Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark, which was such a massively stupid name that it was quickly shortened to just Dr Pepper Ballpark.

When that naming-rights deal expired after 2017, the company, by now renamed Dr Pepper Snapple after a series of corporate shenanigans too boring to recount here, decided that maybe having a stadium named after your soft drink wasn’t the best marketing strategy after all, and declined to renew. RoughRiders officials quickly announced that they would be seeking a new $18 million, 12-year deal, and at least one local economist predicted they’d have no trouble finding a company to pay up.

That has not gone so well. Three years later, the naming rights have still not resold, yet the stadium is still called Dr Pepper Ballpark. This is, apparently, because the team can’t be bothered to take down the old signage. As an anonymous former team employee told the Dallas Observer, “It would cost money to pull all those signs down. We know money is pretty tight up there so, congrats Dr Pepper, free advertising!”

For reference, here is a photo of the main stadium signage, which looks like it would be pretty easy to dismantle and take down, or, you know, throw a tarp over:

There is probably much to be said about the shortsightedness of minor-league sports team owners or the effect on naming-rights value of having ingrained one name in people’s consciousness for 15-going-on-18 years, but really I just want to focus on this poor baseball stadium, which not only has to put up with being festooned with drab gray siding and outfitted with a lazy river to coerce people to brave the Texas heat watching Double-A baseball, but is stuck being named after a poorly punctuated soda designed to taste like the inside of a drug store even though no one is paying for it to be called that. This is either an indictment of modern sports or late capitalism or something, but it makes me sad and yearn for simpler times when ballparks were named after racist team owners or something. Allow me some gauzy nostalgia, no matter how ahistorical it may be!

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13 comments on “The sad story of the stadium named Dr Pepper for no good reason

  1. Didn’t KeyArena keep that name for a good dozen years at least after the bank stopped paying for naming rights?

    1. Yep. Pro Player Stadium in Miami, too, long after Pro Player went bankrupt and stopped paying rights fees.

      There are a few cases where the team will go through the effort of renaming the place something generic for the interim while seeking a new naming-rights sponsor. I don’t actually know whether a new sponsor would be more interested in buying the rights to a place that is currently called “Dr Pepper Ballpark” or “Frisco Park” or whatever, since one of the issues with used stadium names is that people eventually tend to forget to use the new ones. Not that naming-rights deals seem to have much basis in sense, anyhow.

      1. And don’t forget the absolute gold standard of this: the Great Western Forum which was still called that in 2003 despite Great Western having merged into Washington Mutual in 1997. Not sure how effective it was in the LA area but most people here thought LA named it that because it was out west and sounded cool.

  2. Apropos of nothing, as an old Canadian expat I love the fact that for decades the CFL had two teams with the same name. The Saskatchewan Roughriders (still in existence) and the Ottawa Rough Riders.

    1. Sort of like the Dave Clark Five having 2 hits with 2 different songs sharing the same name (Everybody Knows).

  3. Maybe it’s like wearing your wedding ring mid divorce in the hope that it shows your ex that you still want to get together.

  4. It reminds me of when the Maloof Family put tarps over the old Kings sponsors and they fell off during a 2012 game.

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