SBD/Issue 236/College Football Preview

Colleges Forgoing Millions In Naming-Rights Deals

Notre Dame could gain $6M per year from corporate stadium naming rights, while Michigan and Ohio State could command more than $2M per year and LSU and Stanford over $1M, according to an analysis by Front Row Marketing and estimates from Wasserman Media Group Marketing President Jeff Knapple. But while several schools have recently inked corporate naming-rights deals, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and LSU indicated they will remain on the sidelines, citing their desire to fend off the increasing commercialization of college sports and maintain the tradition of their respective stadiums.

Notre Dame
Ohio State
NOTES:  The Front Row Marketing figures were attained by researching the schools’ average national TV exposure, attendance and market size.

TRENDSETTERS? Front Row Marketing Senior VP/Business Operations Adrian Staiti said the financial considerations the schools could command for naming rights are significant, "so it’s just a matter of weighing out the option as to whether or not they want to partner with a corporation and generate new revenue or maintain the tradition.” Minnesota and Central Florida have each recently used corporate naming-rights deals to help defray the cost of building new stadiums. And Maryland last year became the first school to sell naming rights to its field, agreeing to a 25-year, $20M deal with Chevy Chase Bank. The Bonham Group President Rob Vogel said, “There’s no question the naming-rights trend has already sunk into the collegiate world and will continue to grow. Those universities that don’t have the alumni base or don’t have the tradition can do things outside the box.”

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: The strong tradition of Notre Dame football, along with the school’s national TV contract with NBC, makes the university the most attractive candidate for corporate sponsorship. But Notre Dame Senior Associate AD John Heisler said unless there is a “radical change in philosophy” among the university’s administration, the uncluttered look at Notre Dame Stadium will endure. “It’s not a conversation anyone spends a lot of time thinking about,” he said. “In many respects our stadium is a non-commercial zone.”  Univ. of Michigan Associate AD for Media Relations Bruce Madej said the estimates for Michigan Stadium naming rights did not surprise him, but he added the brand equity in the stadium is more important to the school. “The Michigan name and the branding of the University of Michigan is of utmost importance and we want that name to be recognized as the leader in athletics and academics,” he said. “We want to stay as collegiate as possible.”

Pundits Believe Notre Dame Could Land $6M
Annually In Corporate Stadium Naming Rights
THE DOMINO EFFECT: Despite the willingness of schools like Notre Dame and Michigan to pass on naming-rights deals, some experts believe that if one of the top-echelon programs does strike a deal, others could follow. “If nothing else there will be an inquisitiveness of other athletic departments, other presidents of universities, other donors and supporters to want to understand why that happened, how that happened, and what it means to our school,” Knapple said. “From there I think we’ll start to see some momentum gathering.” He added, “In the near future you’re going to see a couple of big-time programs (sign deals)."  Even Ohio State Associate AD for Development Tom Hof, who said his school is not interested in pursuing a stadium naming-rights partner, believes some would see the benefits and do their own deals.  Hof:  "I can see many places going (the naming-rights) direction because the more entrepreneurial you can be to sustain your program, the less you would have to have coming from the academic side of institutions. It’s certainly a means of generating significant revenue and a win-win for both the donor organization and the university.”   But he added, for Ohio Stadium, “Frankly the number could be $5M or it could be $10M, but it’s not something that we are going to pursue.”  LSU Senior Associate AD Herb Vincent said each school’s culture and tradition will ultimately determine if it will pursue a stadium naming-rights deal. “Every school has their own culture and their own character and to me that’s what’s truly unique about college athletics and separates it from (pro sports). I don’t think necessarily if you see a big program do it you’re all of a sudden going to see corporate names on stadiums all over the country.”

SLICE & DICE: Hof said OSU's administration would be open to selling naming-rights to available areas inside the stadium and cited the locker room as a possible candidate for a corporate or donor name. Ohio State already has a naming-rights deal with Huntington Bank for a private club located on Ohio Stadium’s suite level and a deal with Worthington Industries for naming rights to its weight room. At LSU, Vincent said the school could seek to attach naming rights to the stadium’s concourses, club levels and plazas and noted there have been “internal discussions about naming a club level.” He said, it is “our obligation to be fiscally responsible and to bring in the revenues necessary to make our programs run.” The Bonham Group's Vogel said deals for areas around college football stadiums are “less problematic (than stadium naming rights). I think there you could package a nice set of benefits within the stadium across campus.”

ALREADY SIGNED UP: The following presents universities that have already signed naming-rights deals for their respective football stadiums.

TCF Bank Stadium
25 yrs, $35M
Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium
25 yrs, $20M
Central Florida
Bright House Networks Stadium
15 yrs, $15M
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium
20 yrs, $5M
Texas Tech
Jones AT&T Stadium
25 yrs, $20M
Carrier Dome
Indefinite, $2.75M*
^ = As part of a recent deal, Papa John’s stadium naming-rights deal will be extended through 2040.
* = Initial pledge. 
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