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Volume 22 No. 15
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Out by the Bay, venue names seldom stay

Corporate mergers are keeping sports marketers, screen printers and sign companies working overtime in Oakland and San Francisco, an area that has become the capital of revolving-door naming rights.

The homes of the (from top) Giants, Raiders and A’s, and 49ers have used more names than Prince.
San Francisco Giants officials indicated recently that their ballpark, SBC Park, will change its name to include AT&T after its purchase by SBC Communications. That would mark the seventh change in 11 years that has happened to three major league venues in the immediate area, according to SportsBusiness Journal research.

The name change, which would take effect for the 2006 MLB season, would be the third name in four years for the Giants’ home (see chart).

“There could be 10,000 people still calling it Pacific Bell Park, but AT&T Park carries the same value as SBC and Pac Bell, assuming the package stays the same,” said Dick Sherwood, president of Front Row Marketing, and a naming-rights consultant associated with Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center, formerly First Union Center, formerly CoreStates Center.

Confusion reigns over San Francisco and Oakland venue names, especially Oakland’s stadium, renamed McAfee Coliseum in April 2005. In two days in October, the San Jose Mercury News referred to the facility in a story as “Network Associates Coliseum,” the facility’s old name, and a CBS Sports graphic mentioned “McAfee Stadium” during a Raiders home game.

“The old-school fans are still calling it Oakland Coliseum,” said Vince Belizario, a consultant representing McAfee who brokered the deal to convert the venue’s name from Network Associates Coliseum in 2004.

“Those are the challenges you have when buying naming rights for an older facility. There’s nothing like being first out of the gate for a new building.”

After 32 years as Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the stadium has gone through three titles in seven years. Monster Park, where the 49ers play, has had four names since 1994.

“The longer a name’s in use, the more difficult it becomes” to identify it correctly when a change is made, said Rich Krezwick, president and CEO at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, a 10-year-old arena formerly known as FleetCenter, and before that, Shawmut Center.

After the Flyers and 76ers’ facility switched to Wachovia Center, Sherwood said, “The first few months, even I was tripping up on the name.”

One Oakland major league venue has avoided name confusion: The Arena at Oakland has had only one slight name change in its 39 years, but it’s also the only one of the four that has never had a corporate naming deal.

Just down the road, the home of the San Jose Sharks has played the name game as well. It began life as San Jose Arena, but switched to Compaq Center at San Jose in 2001 and then became HP Pavilion at San Jose in 2002 after Hewlett-Packard acquired Compaq.