In the private sector, naming rights are a financial transaction and form of advertising whereby a corporation or other entity purchases the right to name a facility or event, typically for a defined period of time. For properties like a multi-purpose arena, performing arts venue or an athletic field, the term ranges from three to 20 years. Longer terms are more common for higher profile venues such as a professional sports facility.
The distinctive characteristic for this type of naming rights is that the buyer gets a marketing property to promote products and services, promote customer retention and or increase market share.
There are several forms of corporate sponsored names. A presenting sponsor attaches the name of the corporation or brand at the end (or, sometimes, beginning) of a generic, usually traditional, name (e.g. Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome). A title sponsor replaces the original name of the property with a corporate-sponsored one, with no reference to the previous name.
In a few cases, naming rights contracts have been terminated prematurely. Such terminations may be the result of contractual options, sponsor bankruptcy, or scandals.
Stadium naming may have shifted in recent years to promoting corporate trade names, but in earlier decades is largely traced to the family names of company founders. Naming rights in North America may have been traced back to 1912 with the opening of Fenway Park in Boston. The stadium's owner had owned a realty company called "Fenway Realty", so the promotional value of the naming has been considered. Despite this, it is more widely believed to have begun in 1926 when William Wrigley, the chewing gum entrepreneur and owner of the Chicago Cubs, named his team's stadium "Wrigley Field." In 1953, Anheuser-Busch head and St. Louis Cardinals owner August Busch, Jr. proposed renaming Sportsman's Park, occupied by the Cardinals, "Budweiser Stadium". When this idea was rejected by Ford Frick, the Commissioner of Baseball at that time, Anheuser-Busch then proposed the title "Busch Stadium" after one of the company's founders. The name was readily approved, and Anheuser-Busch subsequently released a new product called "Busch Bavarian Beer" (now known as Busch Beer). The name would later be shifted to the Busch Memorial Stadium in 1966, shortened in the 1970s to "Busch Stadium" and remained the stadium's name until it closed in 2005. By that time, Major League Baseball's policy had changed – with Coors Field in Denver and Miller Park in Milwaukee going up in that span – and Anheuser-Busch (who retained the naming rights after selling the team) was able to use the same name for the Cardinals' new stadium which opened on April 4, 2006.
Another early example is when the New England Patriots of the National Football League sold the rights to name the stadium that they had constructed in Foxborough, Massachusetts in 1970–1971 to the Schaefer brewery.
The public reaction to this practice is mixed. Naming rights sold to new venues have largely been accepted, especially if the buyer has strong local connections to the area, such as the case of Rich Stadium in the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and Coors Field in Denver. Selling the naming rights to an already-existing venue has been notably less successful, as in the attempt to rename Candlestick Park in San Francisco to 3Com Park. The general public (and some media outlets) continued to call the facility what it had been known as for over three decades – Candlestick Park. After the agreement with 3Com expired, the rights were resold to Monster Cable, and the stadium was renamed Monster Park. San Francisco voters responded by passing an initiative (Proposition H) in the November 2004 elections that essentially stipulated the name must revert to Candlestick Park once the contract with Monster expired in 2008. The initiative proved largely ceremonial, however, and it was overturned by the passage of Proposition C in 2009 in response to desperate economic times. The naming rights to the park were never resold and the stadium is set to be condemned at the end of 2013.
A distinction, and potential source of contention, is whether a stadium has been financed in whole or in major part by public funds, and is owned by the municipality where the venue is located.
Sports stadiums with naming rights deals are not limited to the United States. "Named" stadiums can be found in countries including Australia, Japan, China, Finland, Canada, Israel and Germany, where 8 of the 10 largest football stadiums have their naming rights sold to corporate sponsors. The practice is widening in the United Kingdom; for instance the current stadium of Bolton Wanderers is the Reebok Stadium and Arsenal Football Club's new stadium for the 2006/2007 season is the Emirates Stadium, their previous ground being Highbury Stadium. In cricket, the most famous example is The Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club. It has had several sponsors over the years, and is currently known as "The Kia Oval", having originally been known as the "Kennington Oval", the district of London in which it is.
The record for the highest amount paid for naming rights belongs to Citi Field (opened in 2009) and Barclays Center (opened in 2012), both located in New York City. Each garnered deals of $20 million per year for at least 20 years, totaling $400 million.
The New Meadowlands Stadium (since named MetLife Stadium), shared home of the New York Giants and New York Jets in East Rutherford, New Jersey was expected to eclipse both deals, with experts estimated it would value $25–30 million annually.
While the highest prices have traditionally been paid for stadium rights, many companies and individuals have found that selling their naming rights can be an important consideration in funding their business. In the last few years many new categories have opened up, such as the selling of the rights to name a new monkey species for $650,000.
Naming rights to public transit stations have been sold in Las Vegas and Philadelphia (AT&T Station). Such sales have been contemplated in New York and Boston, and ruled out in San Francisco. A sponsorship for the MBTA's State Street station by Citizens Bank lasted from 1997 to 2000. In Tampa, naming rights for both streetcar stations and rolling stock are available.
Naming rights also extend outside stadiums in the realm of sports; in college football, all of the Division I bowl games have either modified or abandoned their traditional names in favor of title sponsors. While most include the traditional name in some form (e.g. Discover Orange Bowl, The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio), there have been bowl games that have totally eliminated their traditional name in favor of solely using a corporate sponsor's name in an effort to dissuade fans from using a generic name (for instance, the former Citrus Bowl is now known as the Capital One Bowl and the former Peach Bowl is known as the Chick-Fil-A Bowl), a move that generally is treated with consternation from fans. Team names and even whole leagues have occasionally been sold to corporate sponsors as well (examples include the New York Red Bulls in the former case, the NET10 Wireless Arena Football League for the latter), but this is generally rare in the United States and more common in other parts of the world.
During the 1980s, sanctioned auto races in NASCAR and IndyCar began to abandon their traditional names in favor of exclusive sponsor names. The trend expanded rapidly in NASCAR such that in 1991, all 29 races in the Winston Cup Series featured sponsor names (including the Daytona 500, which was titled the Daytona 500 by STP), with little or no reference to the original names. As of the 2000s, very few exceptions remain in NASCAR, and typically races without sponsor names only lack them because a suitable sponsor could not be secured in enough time. IndyCar follows suit, with most races (except the very traditional Indianapolis 500) embracing title sponsorship.
Television and radio series, especially in the early days of each medium, frequently sold the naming rights to their programs to sponsors, most of whom bankrolled the program. This form of sponsorship fell out of favor in the late 1950s.
In some places, and especially in the UK and US, the naming or renaming of arenas or events is often met with disapproval from the general public. Some people see it as an example of a selling out, especially when they see no obvious benefit to themselves. They often refuse to use a new name, preferring instead to use a non-branded name, especially in colloquial situations. Re-branding can also lead to confusion. In such cases, there may be a lengthy period during which the property is known by both names. A common example is Willis Tower in Chicago which was and often still is referred to as the Sears Tower, even though the building was sold some time ago.
Sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro, Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games prohibit the use of corporate-sponsored name on stadiums, construing the practice as a form of ambush marketing. Any stadium that uses a corporate-purchased name must always be referred to in all event-related media (including live broadcasts) by a generic name (e.g. General Motors Place [now Rogers Arena] was referred to as "Canada Hockey Place" during the 2010 Winter Olympics). The regular corporate signage of a site, including billboards and deck advertising, is usually covered up in these cases; in the FIFA case the signage is replaced solely with FIFA sponsors. However, with the near-universal use of LED ribbon boards, scoreboards and sideline boardings since the mid-2000s in most major league sites where only known sponsors have advertising displayed, "neutralizing" an arena has become a much easier process than in the past.
A nonprofit organization has the option to recognize a major gift from a donor by bestowing naming rights to a property in recognition of the financial support. This is not a financial transaction in the style of the private sector. For example, in honor of the more than $60 million donated over the years by one donor to the National Air and Space Museum properties, the directors of the Smithsonian Institution chose to name its satellite facility in Loudoun County, Virginia after the donor, calling it the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
- List of cultural entities with sole naming rights
- List of sports venues with sole naming rights
- Sponsor (commercial)
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