White Sox stadium actually getting even worse name than “U.S. Cellular Field”

Aw, jeez:

U.S. Cellular Field will change its name to Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox announced Wednesday afternoon.

The White Sox and Guaranteed Rate, a national mortgage lender, have signed 13-year naming rights deal, according to the Sox. But the name could last even longer — the Sox have an option of extending the deal past 2030.

There is nothing to say about this other than to make jokes. And the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal has already won that contest:

More seriously: You know, there’s nothing requiring any of us normal people (or even us abnormal people who are journalists) from using the corporate-assigned name for a stadium — we can still call it U.S. Cellular Field, or New Comiskey Park, or my preference, “the White Sox’ stadium” all we want. Which is no doubt why resold naming rights go for discount rates: Business owners know that there are plenty of other options for what to call the place, so they’re willing to pay less to slap their name on it. Which is also why you see so many smaller companies putting their name on used stadiums — American Airlines doesn’t need that kind of attention, but Monster Cables, sure.

Speaking of which, the White Sox and Guaranteed Rate didn’t reveal how much the new naming rights deal was for. I’m going with “not nearly enough to be worth the ridicule.”

Three sports venues get new corporate names that you’re going to forget immediately

Lots of old sports venues getting new names this week!

The price tags on the Buffalo deal was $40 million for seven years; no money changed hands in Charlotte, obviously, while the Dolphins declined to say how much they got for 18 years of their stadium name. I’m guessing not much, since nobody is going to remember this corporate name any better than the last five or six, but maybe since they just did a renovation, people will think of it as a new building with a new name?

Anyway, the fact that naming rights are worth more for a brand-new, nameless venue continues to be an incentive for teams to demand them. It’s probably not the best thing from an environmental sustainability standpoint that teams and cities are building stadiums partly just to act as giant billboards, but I can’t complain too much so long as it does allow them to fob off some costs on another sucker.

Bills owners sell naming rights to publicly owned stadium, pocket cash

The Buffalo Bills owners have sold the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium for an undisclosed sum to New Era Cap Company, and immediately took down the lettering with the old name:

This made many Bills fans unhappy that the stadium will no longer be named for the team’s founding owner:

We’ve seen this before in other cities, of course. What’s odd here is that Ralph Wilson Stadium isn’t the building’s original name: From 1973 to 1997 it was Rich Stadium, named for a local food company in one of the first naming-rights deals in pro sports. When that deal expired and Rich Products wouldn’t agree to an increased rights fee, Erie County instead named it after the Bills’ owner.

Wilson died in 2014, and somewhere along the way, so did the county’s ownership of the naming rights, as it appears new owners Terry and Kim Pegula will be pocketing whatever cash comes from this deal, even though Erie County still owns the building. It seems like that’d be more worth getting upset over, but there’s no accounting for football fans.


Broncos stadium name contract goes up for auction, no one bids even one dollar

Man, I hate when I get all excited about a news story and then it turns out to be a big ball of nothing. That appears to be the case with Friday’s news that the naming rights to the Denver Broncos stadium had gone up for sale, and nobody even bothered to bid:

The stadium in Denver is called Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, named after the eponymous sporting goods retailer in 2011. However, Sports Authority filed for bankruptcy in March and put the naming rights up for sale as part of a court-supervised auction.

No bidders for the rights came forward at an auction of the retailer’s assets held this week, Matt Sugar, the director of stadium affairs at the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which is the owner of the stadium, said on Friday. Discussions are underway about launching a new auction for the naming rights.

Wow, really, nobody? I’ve argued before that naming rights for existing stadiums aren’t worth much, in part because after a couple of name changes everybody just gives up and calls it whatever it was called in the first place — and with “Mile High” stuck there in the name, that gives fans a great option to ignore whatever new corporate moniker got slapped on ahead of it. But you’d think somebody — some publicity-desperate tech startup, Peeple, anybody — would throw a token $1 at the bankruptcy auction, no?

Except then there’s this:

The contract for the naming rights up for grabs extends until 2021, and comes with a $3.6 million payment obligation due Aug. 1.

And there’s the catch: Sports Authority isn’t really auctioning off the rights to the Broncos stadium name — it’s auctioning off its contract to put a name on the Broncos stadium. And since the stadium name is almost certainly worth less than the $6 million a year the company agreed to pay back in 2011, the rights to take on those payments probably have a negative value, which is why nobody bothered to bid.

The more likely scenario now is that no one bids for the rights, Sports Authority misses that August 1 payment, and the Denver Metropolitan Football Stadium District gets to re-sell the rights to the highest bidder, of which there will no doubt be some, even if they won’t be offering $6 million a year. The Broncos and the district split the proceeds from naming rights, so Sports Authority’s bankruptcy could end up costing both the team owners and the public some money — though not as much as the naming-rights deal cost Sports Authority, since the move may have helped push the company into bankruptcy. You think maybe everyone might have thought this through better in the first place?

Vikings are suing Wells Fargo for photobombing their new stadium

The stadium news world has clearly decided this week to transition from tragedy to farce: First the mentally disturbed man who somehow claimed the lease to the San Diego Padres stadium, and now the Minnesota Vikings are suing Wells Fargo Bank for photobombing their new stadium:

“Wells Fargo has recently started installing mounted and illuminated roof top signs that do not conform to the parties agreement in an effort to permanently ‘photo bomb’ the image of the iconic U.S. Bank Stadium,” the lawsuit said. “The prohibited action must be stopped immediately.”

The Wells Fargo signs are atop a pair of new buildings the bank is building alongside the under-construction Vikings stadium — which, you’ll recall, got a naming-rights deal with a competing bank (U.S. Bank). Since they’re part of the same larger development, the Vikings got to set conditions for the types of signage that Wells Fargo would erect, and ultimately agreed to allow two non-illuminated signs that were painted on the roof, not raised. Since then, however, Wells Fargo tried to amend the agreement to allow for lit signs, saying if it was denied, it would respond by simply “lighting the entire roof of each tower, including the signs.”

There’s surely some wording deep within the agreement that will determine who prevails in court, but right now let’s just enjoy the hilarity of a football team suing a neighboring building for putting up giant roof logos that it’s afraid will distract from its own giant roof logos.

76ers get back at arena sponsor by printing name on court in tiniest lettering possible

There’s been an escalation in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ ongoing war against their arena’s naming rights sponsor — you can read all about it here, but the short version is the Flyers get all the naming rights cash so the 76ers owners have sworn not to use the corporate name at all — and it is awesome for anyone who’s a fan of passive-aggressive typography:

76ers-2015-16-courtz.focus-none.width-800That is “Wells Fargo Center” written as small as possible, in white lettering against a light-wood floor, so that no one will ever be able to read it or even notice it without a big red oval drawn around it by the Philly Voice’s art department. Apparently the only reason it’s on the court at all is to meet the letter of some league rule — I bet there’s going to be some fun times debating font sizes at the next meeting of the NBA’s Court Branding Subcommittee.

St. Louis Rams stadium gets naming-rights sponsor, needs only actual stadium

Move over, Farmers Field, there’s a new vaportecture stadium with its own naming rights deal. Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed $1 billion-ish St. Louis Rams stadium will be officially known as National Car Rental Field, if anything can be official about a stadium that isn’t built yet and doesn’t even have a complete funding plan, let alone a team owner willing to go along with it.

Under the agreement, the car rental company would pay an average of $7.9 million a year over 20 years to slap its name on the building. Since that’s just an average — payments could be heavily backloaded for all we know — there’s no way to determine a present value on those payments, but it’s a fair guess that it could pay off around $100 million in stadium costs. Nixon’s stadium task force didn’t actually say whose $100 million this would be: The naming-rights cash could go to the building’s public owners, which would make sense but go against common sports-stadium practice, or could go toward paying Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s share, which would maybe make him (and the NFL) more amenable to keeping the team in town and not moving it to Los Angeles.

And that’s what’s really going on here, with a corporate name for a stadium that doesn’t exist yet: Nixon is trying to show the NFL that he has momentum, or something, toward a new stadium and so they shouldn’t let the Rams move. As gambits go, there are dumber ones, especially since right now it looks like all St. Louis needs to do is to convince a handful of NFL owners to keep voting against Kroenke. It’s stupid, but the way things are going, I expect the L.A. move threat gamesmanship to get way more stupid before the winter is out.

Besides, in the meantime National Car Rental gets its name on some nice stadium renderings. And I can’t find anyone with anything bad to say about National other than that you have to haggle with them for the best rates just like other car rental companies, so here’s hoping they enjoy their moment in the computer-rendered sun!

Sixers stop using arena’s corporate name, does this mean we can too?

I go back and forth on whether to use corporate names of sports venues on this site — on the one hand, it’s silly not to use the name that everyone uses for a building, on the other, with constantly changing names half the time regular humans just call it “the [name of team] stadium” anyway. But the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers just potentially blew up the whole naming-rights game, by declaring that they’re no longer going to refer to their arena by it’s corporate-designated name, because the corporation in question isn’t one of their sponsors:

The Sixers have decided to stop referring to the Wells Fargo Center by name in all news releases and on the team website because the financial institution chose not to become a business partner with the basketball franchise.

This season, the 76ers started referring to the 20,000-seat arena simply as The Center…

Chris Heck, chief revenue officer of the 76ers, said the team values its partners and tries to maximize its relationships.

“We also continue to enjoy our relationship with Comcast Spectacor as tenants at a world-class arena, but that particular bank is currently not a sponsor of the Philadelphia 76ers,” Heck said.

So a bit of background: Comcast Spectacor is not only a giant cable and arena management company, but also owner of the Flyers, who own Philadelphia’s arena. Wells Fargo is the bank that bought Wachovia, which in turn bought First Union Bank, which bought CoreStates Bank, which agreed to pay $2 million a year through the year 2024 to slap its name, or that of its successors, on the building. Since the 76ers aren’t getting any of that money, and are free to sign up their own “official bank of the 76ers” that may not be Wells Fargo, why should they agree to use the name?

It’s a reminder of the ephemeral nature of corporate naming rights, in which tens or even hundreds of millions change hands for something that depends on regular people agreeing to actually go along with the paid nomenclature. Ever since the Denver Post caved in on trying to call the Broncos‘ new stadium “Mile High Field” rather than whatever its naming-rights sponsor wanted, the supremacy of paid names has been mostly unquestioned. However, the 76ers’ move — which is unlikely to be widely replicated, since most teams are the ones getting the naming-rights fees, but anyway — is a reminder that while you can put a big sign on a building, you can’t force people to say the words.

Already, Deadspin has announced its intentions to follow suit — “the next time you read us writing about something occurring at Tropicana Field, feel free to (politely) drop into the comments and remind us that we aren’t getting free juice boxes, and that it’s actually the Florida Suncoast Dome” — and you have to wonder if other corporate-sponsorship-hungry media outlets will eventually follow suit. Though come to think of it, a world where every website uses its own name for things based on who paid them for it is even scarier than the one we already have. It all just makes me want to crawl back into Sleepy’s Mattress bed.

Naming rights deals are terrible investments, so why do companies keep doing them?

The idea that buying naming rights to a sports venue is a massive waste of money is nothing new — Chris Isidore of CNNMoney noted way back in 2003 that businesses with naming-rights deals had an alarming tendency to go bankrupt — but now there’s evidence to back it up. New York magazine spoke with marketing professor J. Scott Armstrong, who noted that sponsorship deals of all kinds have been found to have no significant correlation with more people actually buying your product, even just out of name recognition. And in particular, naming-rights deals “do not have a lasting impact on the profitability of the firms that buy them.”

So, why on earth buy them? Aren’t corporate tycoons supposed to be profit-maximizing machines, stopping at nothing to evaluate every action coldly in terms of return on investment? Spake Armstrong:

“People who are running the company feel good about it — and this is just speculation, of course — they feel important, I imagine,” he said.

In other words, if you work for a company looking to buy naming rights, it’s simply cool to have an association with the NBA or the NFL or a snazzy new stadium, and in some cases it can lead to tangible benefits like hanging out with celebrities or attending playoff games. “I think they just assume it’s going to [work], and it’s a fun project to get involved with,” Armstrong explained. This can help explain the response he’s gotten when he’s queried employees of companies directly as to whether they try to calculate the return on investment on their sponsorship deals: “Nah, we don’t do that.”

On the one hand, it’s lucky that corporate marketing execs are so daft, because naming-rights deals have helped make new stadiums a hell of a lot more affordable in recent years without dipping quite as far into the public purse. (This is assuming that you think making it more affordable to tear down 20-year-old stadiums and build new ones is a good thing, big-picture speaking.) On the other, if you’re an employee of, say, the University of Phoenix who’s being told there’s no money to give you a raise because the university is in a death spiral of red ink, you might consider giving up on making a case that you deserve it, and instead argue that you’re “a fun project to get involved with.”

Rangers, Pelicans cut deals to make you call their buildings by ridiculous names

The Texas Rangers announced yesterday that they’d sold the naming rights to the Ballpark at Arlington (formerly Ameriquest Field, until Ameriquest broke the economy and went belly-up) for an unknown sum, and that the stadium would henceforth be known as “Globe Life Park in Arlington.” Which is one of the worst names for anything ever — the Fort Worth Star Telegram helpfully noted that “fan reaction to the new name on social media sites ranged from unimpressed to outraged, with comments such as ‘barf,’ ‘lame’ and ‘at least they kept Arlington in the name’” — or at least was, until this a couple of hours later:

The New Orleans Pelicans and Louisiana-based Smoothie King have reached a 10-year agreement to rename the New Orleans Arena as the Smoothie King Center.

On the bright side, at least it’s clear what a Smoothie King sells, unlike a Globe Life. Still, it’s getting increasingly hard to see why anyone should be using these branded names for buildings, since they change about as often as soccer jersey logos. (Thankfully, no one has tried to insist that we call them “Qatar Airways FC Barcelona.” Yet.) It’s easy enough to call the Rangers’ ballpark “the Rangers’ ballpark” (in fact, it’s officially been “The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington” the last few years, not that I’ve noticed), call the New Orleans arena “the New Orleans Arena,” and so on. At least until the teams give us a cut of the product-placement moolah. Hey, New York City’s transit agency does it!