By the social media reaction, you would think that the University of Kentucky's deal to rebrand Commonwealth Stadium "Kroger Field" was the singular worst decision of the century. I have to admit that I was kind of indifferent to the criticism over the name of the stadium as I have chosen to pick and choose my battles online and I am a little immune to terribly named sports stadiums.
Since their inception, my beloved Orlando Magic have played in two buildings named after what most people still consider pyramid schemes. And my Dolphins have had so many stadium names that I have lost track of what the stadium is actually called now.
While Kroger Field has yet to endear itself to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, by the numbers, it is a pretty good deal in the world of collegiate stadium naming deals.
The deal pales in comparison to the USC Deal with United Airlines for the LA Coliseum ($4.7M a year), Kroger Field ranks as the fourth best naming rights deals in college sports. Granted, this is a new trend in college athletics and the Kroger deal will eventually be surpassed as other schools follow the money, it's not a terrible deal.
If you are like me, you probably scanned that list for the school to the west and the pizza deal they made for their football field and I was kind of surprised to see that it was not on the list. Because it's not a good deal at all. While Louisville was one of the first teams to hop on their trend, their deal is one of the worst.
In 1996, the naming rights were a $5 million arrangement — a $4 million contribution from Schnatter and a $1 million sponsorship from his company. The separate deals have since been amended and extended as Schnatter and his company have given millions more.
Schnatter’s personal donations under the stadium deal — now $12.5 million for 42 years — averages out to roughly $300,000 a year for the name recognition.
Back in the late 1990s, this was a good deal for Schnatter and U of L. Stadium naming rights were less common and less lucrative. The Louisville Cardinals was a less successful football team, several years before its players were primetime ESPN fodder and two decades before its quarterback won a Heisman Trophy.
But big-dollar deals have become the norm since. Earlier this month, Kroger announced a $1.85 million-a-year deal to name the University of Kentucky’s football stadium.
What is even more interesting in this deal is that Schnatter owns the name and he can change this name to whatever appeals to him. "John Schnatter's Super Cool Field" would even be a possibility if he had the urge.
Schnatter's influence with the University of Louisville even extended into some pretty sweet perks at the KFC Yum! Center as well.
Among the corporate perks and concessions:
Papa John’s has exclusive rights for pizza sales at the stadium and during U of L events at other facilities.
The Papa John’s logo must be displayed during the first and last two minutes at the downtown arena when U of L’s basketball team is playing — even though the arena’s corporate naming rights belong to the KFC Yum! Center.
The pizza company got first pick of a suite at the new arena, as well as numerous season tickets and parking passes at the football stadium.
U of L promised to market Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium as a possible home for a professional soccer team.
It is an interesting power struggle that is going on right now at Louisville between Schnatter and the University but Papa John seems to know that he has a lot of power with this exchange:
Schnatter ruffled feathers at U of L in recent months, criticizing the athletics department and its “invisible” leadership. He hinted at his outsized influence while discussing the university’s budget. (Watch the meeting)
“We’re getting ready to put $60 million in a stadium. By the way, it’s my stadium,” he said with a chuckle.
To be fair, the above chart of the naming rights numbers do not seem to include the college basketball arena. The KFC Yum! Center contract was a 10-year deal worth $13.5M deal for the naming rights. It is a better deal than the Papa John’s deal but still about half a million less annually than Kroger Field. And it was a far cry from the $40M deal that Louisville officials originally expected.
In the end, stadium naming rights are pretty useless for the common fan to rage about so you can either embrace the new name or continue to call it Commonwealth Stadium. The deal has been done and while I will still call the place Commonwealth by habit for the rest of my life, I can rest assured that the deal was not nearly as bad as a lot of people would lead you to believe.
And if the team wins, no one will care what the stadium is called. That's the bottom line.