Corporations can spend hundreds of million dollars just so they can put their name on a major league sports stadiums. 24/7 Wall St. looked that the 13 largest stadium-naming rights deals and found several unrelated reasons for these extraordinary investments.
Most major league sports stadiums get substantial public exposure. Fans see the name while attending the games. In many cities, the arenas are a major landmark. They can be spotted, along with their emblazoned names, for miles around from the ground or the air. Then there are the nationally and internationally televised games when millions of people around the country — and sometimes the world — see and hear the sponsor company’s name as announcers refer to the venue. Over the 20-year lifespan of a naming rights deal, tens of millions of people see and hear the sponsor’s name over and over.
Some of the stadium sponsors on the 24/7 Wall St. list are headquartered in the same city as the sports venue. This is the case with American Airlines in Dallas. The airline gets local exposure in its home city. And because the airline is international, the fact that the stadium’s name appears on television and in sports promotions further extends awareness of the airline’s brand. American has spent $195 million on a 30-year naming rights deal to the basketball and hockey arena in Dallas. It is impossible to say whether that amount is too high or too low. But that is also true of most advertising and branding the carrier does.
Some of the stadium names are actually more for local or regional exposure than national or international branding. This is the case with Reliant Stadium in Houston, which is named for the local electrical and energy service company. While Reliant’s parent company, NRG (NYSE: NRG), is a Fortune 500 corporation and has no need for local branding, it must believe there is a value to Reliant’s brand promotion. It has 1.5 million customers in the Texas.
The final reason for purchasing naming rights is personal. Lucas Oil purchased naming rights to the football stadium in Indianapolis mostly because founder Forrest Lucas was born there. The company actually provides oil and performance car products, and it also sponsors a number of sports cars. It is easier to see why a car oil company would do auto branding rather than have its name on a stadium. But Lucas has the wealth to put his name on almost anything he pleases, as long as the branding rights are available.
It is impossible for a company to determine the return on investment it makes when it attaches its name to a stadium for an amount that is often more than $100 million with a term of several decades. The sponsor has no way of telling whether the teams that use the stadiums will do well, or whether attendances will remain high. But like many forms of branding, it is part of a larger strategy to keep the name of a product, or a company, in the consumers’ minds. One way to accomplish that is to put it in front of the millions of people who see the stadium in person or in the media.