The Multiple-Personality Stadiums

What happens when a stadium loses a sponsor again and again?

Some 70 percent of pro sports facilities have a corporate name over the front gate—or in the parking lot, on the scoreboard, even in the rest room. Brands have demonstrated that they will plunk down serious cash for the exposure. Bank of America, for one, is paying $140 million over 20 years to name the home of the Carolina Panthers. And it’s little wonder. A recent study by marketing firm Performance Research found that 90 percent of fans can recall the names of companies that sponsor their local arenas, while 35 percent say it causes them to have a more favorable opinion of the brands. But what happens when a stadium loses a sponsor—not just once, but again and again? The average naming-rights pact spans 19 years—assuming the brand itself survives—yet some venues suffer from a touch of schizophrenia. “It creates confusion,” says Michael O’Hara, professor of finance at the University of Nebraska and a sports economics expert. “The purpose of naming rights is to build a nice, firm, solid brand.” Maybe that’s why, after a brand bails, ballparks seem to have little trouble lining up another to take its place. Following are a few venues with serious identity issues.

TD Garden, Boston

After the old Boston Garden’s date with the wrecking ball, locals began calling its 20,000-seat replacement the New Garden—that is, until Shawmut Bank bought the naming rights in 1995 and planned to call the place Shawmut Center. Then, Fleet Bank ate Shawmut and the new arena opened as the FleetCenter. But when Delaware North Companies bought the stadium in 2005, it sold the name to TD Banknorth, which renamed the arena TD Banknorth Garden. That’s before TD Banknorth shortened its name to TD Bank, and changed the stadium’s name, in 2009, to TD Garden—never mind that Beantown sports fans still call the place Boston Garden.

Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo, N.Y.

This $43 million baseball stadium opened in 1988 as Pilot Field, named after Pilot Air Freight—that’s before Pilot failed to make its annual $51,000 payment to brand the facility. While the city of Buffalo shopped for a new sponsor, it called the place the rather uninspired Downtown Ballpark. In 1995, an HMO stepped up to the plate, resulting in the poetic-sounding North AmeriCare Park. Locals were forced to endure that name for four years until locally based Dunn Tire stepped up to name the venue Dunn Tire Park. Yet another change came in 2009, when Dunn Tire decided not to re-up and Coca-Cola Bottling of Buffalo inked a 10-year deal to create Coca-Cola Field.

Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

In the run-up to its construction in the mid ‘90s, rumor had it that this $210 million stadium was to be christened the Spectrum II, an homage to the Spectrum hockey arena that was erected in South Philly in 1967. But after CoreStates Bank agreed to pay $40 million for naming rights over 29 years beginning in 1996, the venue opened as the CoreStates Center. Then came bank merger mania—and the arena has been changing its identity ever since. It took the name First Union Center from 1997 to 2003. After that, it became the Wachovia Center. It took its current name, Wells Fargo Center, in 2010—the same year, as it happens, that the old Spectrum met its demise.

Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Mo.

Seventeen years ago, the Trans World Dome was born when Trans World Airlines agreed to pay $1.3 million a year in a deal to span two decades. It lasted barely six years. When TWA was bought out by American Airlines in 2001, American could have put its own name on the 67,000-seat stadium, but it already had branded two other facilities, in Miami and Dallas. While St. Louis looked for a new suitor, it named the venue The Dome at America’s Center, which lasted but a year. In 2002, Edward Jones Investments agreed to pay $2.65 million a year, and Edward Jones Dome was born. Yet even those millions can’t keep it from being consistently ranked as one of the worst stadiums in the country.

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