January 21, 2005
Welcome to Your-Name-Here Stadium

This was bound to happen sooner or later: HISD ponders selling naming rights to high school football stadia.

If HISD goes forward with the proposal, Houston would join a small but growing list of Texas school districts to plaster corporate names on their stadium facades.

"These things are worth discussing," said HISD trustee Greg Meyers. "It's probably a fine idea."

Businesses have paid more than $1 million each to put their names on at least three Texas high school football stadiums, in Midland, Forney and Tyler.

HISD's three sports complexes Barnett, Butler and Delmar-Dyer would be enticing advertising venues to many companies, said Dave Stephenson, president of Titus Sports Marketing in Dallas.

"With so many campuses and students tied into their facilities, if they look at an umbrella proposal, there's tremendous prospects for that," Stephenson said of HISD. Last year, his company negotiated a 12-year, $1.9 million deal with a hospital system that changed the Tyler stadium name to Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.

Although most naming deals have involved advertisers seeking suburban and rural audiences, Stephenson said he believes urban school districts will attract interest as well.

"There's a lot of companies that want to get involved with inner-city students," he said. "They may like HISD because they want to give back to the community and see their name put into helping disadvantaged kids."

Honestly, I'm surprised it hadn't already happened in Houston. Of course, maybe it's just as well that nobody thought of it while Enron was still throwing money around. And let's face it, I don't think "Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium" would inspire much trembling from one's opponents.

There are those, however, who believe public school facilities should be commercial-free zones.

"What schools have to understand is that naming a stadium after a corporation is basically saying to the kids, 'Buy this. These are the good guys.' And should a school be doing that?" said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and founding member of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "We used to name buildings after heroes, and now what we're doing is naming buildings after the highest bidder."

Eh, I don't know. Are all high school stadia completely advertising-free to begin with? I mean, no signs, banners, anything with a logo on it? If not, why is this any more pernicious? I understand the point, I just don't think it's a big deal in this case.

UPDATE: KPRC did a story on this during the 5 PM news tonight. In one shot, they showed the scoreboard at some named-for-a-person stadium. In each of the corners of the scoreboard was a big red Coca Cola logo. Yeah, changing the name from Obscure Rich Guy Who Once Gave The School A Pile Of Money Stadium to Three Initial Corporation Stadium is really gonna send a message to the kids.

In the comments, Dru Stevenson mentions an interesting possibility, which is that one of the Houston megachurches, who already do a lot of advertising, might be in the market for a stadium name. It could happen. Lakewood Church already owns the Compaq CenterSummit, so adding an Oasis Of Love Stadium to their portfolio might make sense. I'd love to hear the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on that one if they try.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 21, 2005 to Other sports | TrackBack
And let's face it, I don't think "Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium" would inspire much trembling from one's opponents.
...unless they think they'll be taken to Mother Frances hospital if they're injured. I know I don't want to go there again. Posted by: Michael on January 21, 2005 11:20 AM

I think selling stadium names is just great - it offers a huge potential source of financing for underfunded public schools, and I'd prefer big businesses did this voluntarily than have the revenue be generated simply by more burdensome property taxes.

Also, the critics don't seem worried about the subtle product associations that already occur with team names and mascots -"WildCATS," "RAIDers," "Trojans," etc. Aren't these just as likely to influence purchasing decisions of high schoolers as "Chevron field"? And what is more likely to feature prominently in the minds of people - the name of the public school athletic field (many are already named after obscure politicians and former coaches, but nobody notices this), or "Toyota Center" and "MinuteMaid Stadium"? In the alterative, when we name schools and stadiums after revered politicians (JFK seems to be a favorite for schools), aren't we endorsing a political party? Isn't the school saying, "Hey, kids, vote for more Democrats"?

I don't think anyone would take it as a school administration's endorsement of the product. And if the kids did, it seems more likely to make the product "uncool" than desirable. I think the critics are being unrealistic.

It does make the statement that the company did something really beneficial for the school, though; if some appreciative locals switch to that product as a result, there will have been no misrepresentation. The company deserves it because they are pouring money into local schools instead of more billboards and Internet pop-ups.

The more interesting question for me is what we should do if 2nd Baptist or Lakewood Church - two of the biggest advertisers in Houston - want to buy the name of a public high school field. I still have no problem with it, but I can see a stronger argument against this than against Chevron.

Posted by: Dru Stevenson on January 21, 2005 11:41 AM

Geez, who are they kidding. School stadiums should be a commercial-free zone?

This is actually nothing new at all. Well, maybe the selling of naming rights, but not the commercials. My high-school baseball stadium in suburban Eugene Oregon had a Coca Cola scoreboard and the outfield fence panels had ads for local businesses when I attended from 79-82. In fact, ads on the outfield fences in baseball stadiums is as old as baseball itself.

But I think only in Texas would people think of selling naming rights to high school stadiums. Everywhere else in the country high school stadiums are mostly just bleachers and hardly worth naming at all.

Posted by: Kent on January 21, 2005 11:42 AM

Oh, I almost forgot. My 6-year-old daughter's scoccer jersey has the local sponsor's name and logo printed in big letters right on front: "Lawn's Limited. Landscape & Irrigation Service".

The horror! Don't we need to protect our children from such rampant commercialization? On the other hand, I'm sure the Little League jersey I wore in 1972 had the sponsor printed on the front too. I seemed to have surved the trauma.

I also recall that the Waco youth soccer complex where she plays has a big sign with a local Chevy dealer and Pepsi on it. So the commercialization of sport has even reached down to the early elementary grades!

Posted by: Kent on January 21, 2005 11:52 AM

If you really want to see advertising in sports run amok, check out any European soccer, basketball or hockey team. They've got more advertising on their jerseys than Nascar drivers, and they're also doing more and more stadium naming-rights deals. For example, the 2006 World Cup will open in the Allianz Arena in Munich on June 9th. This stadium will replace the one used by the two Munich soccer teams (Bayern and TSV 1860) since 1972 (Olympiastadion).

Posted by: William Hughes on January 21, 2005 12:45 PM

From the uniforms of that neglected classic, The Bad News Bears; "Chico's Bail Bonds...Let Freedom Ring!' (with liberty bell logo0

Posted by: etc. on January 21, 2005 4:55 PM

Yet more evidence that society is becoming more and more corporate every day. And this is proof that it ain't just the conservatives leading us down that path, folks.

Posted by: Tim on January 21, 2005 5:15 PM

Spring Branch ISD tried to sell off naming rights everything from auditoriums to buildings. No takers.

Posted by: Kimberly on January 21, 2005 5:38 PM

Actually, now that I think about it, the person who sold SBISD on that decision went on to the same position in HISD. So there you have it. Haven't seen it work yet, although I think Grapevine-Colleyville had some success selling a roof.

Posted by: Kimberly on January 21, 2005 5:40 PM

I think that it is a good thing to do these kind of partnerships.

On the other hand, I reserve the right to tease any HISD student if they end up naming it the "Oasis of Love Bowl."

Posted by: Jim D on January 21, 2005 9:37 PM

I don't necessarily see stadium naming as a big deal.

My concern is that in ten years I may be sending my kids to Coca-Cola High School.

Posted by: Buhallin on January 24, 2005 1:41 PM

I suppose what gets opponents riled up is the question: how far down the slippery slope do we go?

I agree we've already gone quite a ways, and that selling stadium names (as opposed to, say, school names) doesn't really take us much further down that slope. But people feel you have to draw the line somewhere, and for some this is as good a place as any. After all, whoever buys a stadium's name may well be the next Enron.

It is disturbing that school districts feel a need to go commercial in order to make ends meet. But personally, there are commercial arrangements that discomfit me more than selling stadium names; e.g., Channel One.

That said, Dru Stevenson's arguments about "RAIDers" and "Trojans" strike me as flippant. Does anyone believe that the Oakland pro-football team and its namesakes are sponsoring a particular insecticide brand, or that USC is promoting condom use? Give me a break.

It would be interesting, though, to see the corporate and religious wings of the GOP go to war over "Astroglide Stadium."

Posted by: Mathwiz on January 26, 2005 5:21 PM