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!

GEO Group tries to quiet stadium name uproar by erasing Wikipedia records

The controversy over Florida Atlantic University selling its football stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison company being sued for human rights violations just gets better and better: Now it appears that the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) has had one of its corporate relations executives edit the company’s Wikipedia page to eliminate all mentions of mistreatment of prisoners at its facilities:

A section on the Wikipedia page entitled “controversies,” which listed state and federal investigations and lawsuits claiming mistreatment of prisoners in GEO facilities, had disappeared. In its place was a new section, headlined “Quality of Operations,” which duplicated language in company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This being Wikipedia, the offending “Controversies” section was soon restored. And what exactly did GEO Group want hidden from the public? Some samples:

  • “Between 2005 and 2009, at least eight people had died at the Geo Group-operated George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the state’s only privately run jail. Several of those deaths resulted in lawsuits by family members who say the facility did not provide adequate medical care or proper supervision for offenders. On December 31, 2008, Geo pulled out of operations at this facility, ‘citing underperformance and frequent litigations’ as the reasons.”
  • “In November 2010 plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit against the agencies that operate and own the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, saying that the prison authorities allowed abuses and negligence to occur at the facility. The lawsuit states that prison guards engaged in sexual intercourse with the prisoners and smuggled illegal drugs into the facilities, and that prison authorities denied education and medical care. As of that month the prison has about 1,200 prisoners ages 13–22; the lawsuit says that half of the prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.”

Also, from the Huffington Post article reporting on the Wikipedia mess, we learn that

The company has been at the center of several controversies across the U.S., including at a youth detention center in Texas, which was shut down after state inspectors said they found “filthy” and “unsafe” conditions that included feces on walls. Several riots erupted at a GEO-operated federal prison in west Texas that housed mostly undocumented immigrants in 2008 and 2009, following the death of an epileptic inmate who had been left in isolation despite pleas for help.

All charges that weren’t getting much attention until GEO pulled its one-two punch of trying to buy a higher profile via stadium naming rights, and trying to expunge its record on the web. It’s always possible that five years from now, everyone will have forgotten this and just think of GEO as “that company that has its name on the stadium of some minor Florida college’s football stadium,” but right now the whole deal is testing the proposition that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

University sells stadium name to prison company, because there’s no such thing as shame anymore

I know somebody’s going to ask about the university that sold its stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison company, so: A university has sold its stadium naming rights to a for-profit prison company. Namely Florida Atlantic University, which completed a new $70 million football stadium in 2011, has agreed to rename the building GEO Group Stadium for the next 12 years in exchange for a $6 million, ahem, “philanthropic donation.” GEO Group runs $3 billion worth of prisons in the U.S., Australia, South Africa, and the U.K., and is current being sued for human rights abuses against inmates.

The obvious jokes and student protests aside, the most interesting things here are that Sun Belt Conference naming rights aren’t worth much ($500,000 a year is a pittance compared to pretty much any pro sports naming-rights deal), and that this opens up a whole new realm of companies buying stadium names not so much as a way of getting publicity, but as a way of countering bad publicity. (Recall that GEO changed its name from Wackenhut ten years ago, in part to get away from the stench associated with that company name.) I hope we can now look forward to the Goldman Sachs Dome, Kim Jong-Un Stadium, and the Oscar Pistorius Bowl as people realize the benefits of distancing yourself from accusations of wrongdoing by associating yourself with something more wholesome like … American college football?

MetLife inks Jersey naming rights deal for … some number of millions

The MetLife naming-rights deal for the New York Jets and Giants stadium is now official, with a 25-year agreement worth a reported $17 to 20 million a year. It’s unclear whether this means the payments vary, or news reports are just guessing about the amount — or, for that matter, whether the dollar figures are based on anything other than previously reported guesses.

This is actually an upgrade for MetLife, which previously was paying $7 million a year for advertising rights to a corner of the stadium. Instead, it will now get not only the name of the stadium (which will host the 2014 Super Bowl), but “120,000 square feet of branded space at the stadium’s main entrance,” according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

The uncertainty over the price and the inclusion of ad space at the entrance makes it tough to compare the dollar figures here to other naming-rights deals, but it’s fair to say that this is a sign that the naming-rights market is returning to life, after most corporations sat it out the last few years during the recession. (With some notable exceptions.) As MetLife chief marketing officer Beth Hirschhorn explained her company’s big buy: “MetLife has near ubiquitous brand awareness. This helps raise our top of mindedness.” Not to mention their neologismshare.

Met Life to pay $20m/year for Meadowlands naming rights?

The New York Post is reporting that the New York Jets‘ and Giants‘ year-old home will become MetLife Stadium under the terms of a naming-rights deal to be announced in the next week. According to the paper, MetLife’s payments “could range as high as $20 million year for 20 years” — though of course, we’ve heard that before.

The main interest here is that, if true, it means that the market for naming rights has rebounded a bit after the economic collapse, which would seem to bode well for other teams (or cities) trying to raise funds by selling their stadium name. At least, if your city is the largest media market in the U.S., and your stadium has two NFL teams playing in it.

Worst. Stadium name. Ever?

European sports leagues are usually outside this site’s purview, but sometimes we just have to take notice: For example, when the Newcastle United football team (that’s soccer to you North American readers) announces that it’s signed a naming rights deal to rename its 117-year-old St. James’ Park to “sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park Stadium” for the remainder of the season. The cost to the online sportswear merchant: Absolutely nothing, as the new name is being used to “showcase” the park’s naming rights for a more long-term sale next summer. And did we mention that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is also owner of Sports Direct?

So far British fans and the media have mostly reacted by pointing and laughing, with Telegraph columnist Jim White writing that compared to this, “FC Dallas‘s Pizza Hut Park is a beacon of understatement.” Okay, pointing, laughing, and trying to form a fan cooperative to buy out out Ashley and turn the team into a community-owned club like in Madrid and Barcelona. Because we all know those Europeans are a bunch of socialists.