Would you like to name the Broncos’ stadium?
By Stewart Schley, Freelance Writer, ColoradoBiz Magazine
With time running out and chaos swirling on the field, the Denver Broncos did what many a savvy QB does in a make-or-break moment: took the ball into their own hands. The team’s agreement to assume payment obligations for the naming rights to Sports Authority Field in August provided some breathing room as uncertainty loomed over the stadium’s new name.
It’s possible that by the time you read this, Sports Fan, we’ll know who’s willing to pay up to $10 million or so per year for the right to attach a corporate brand to the building Broncos fans think of as their Happy Place. But only weeks before opening-day kickoff, the picture was muddled.
The demise of the sporting goods retailer triggered a search for a new naming partner that hadn’t yielded results as the season neared despite efforts by a search firm hired to dispose of Sports Authority’s assets. The Broncos then sought permission to assume Sports Authority’s obligations and take over the effort from the court overseeing Sports Authority’s bankruptcy. Proceeds from the deal will be split 50-50 between the team and the Metropolitan Football Stadium District that owns and maintains the facility.
The temporary disarray trained a spotlight on the marketplace for stadium naming rights, where consensus is elusive. Naming rights agents, aiming to maximize values, like to talk about the unusual level of exposure brands and companies attain by attaching their names to stadiums that are seen by hundreds of thousands of live-event attendees and mentioned repeatedly during national broadcasts. Doubters think the money would be better spent on more traditional marketing tactics like advertising, event sponsorships and social media outreach.
Even so, the idea that the home of a marquee NFL franchise and three-time Super Bowl champion would go unloved for an elongated time is silly. A long-term naming rights deal has always been a certainty. What’s more intriguing is the impact a corporate brand brings to the fan experience. Many a Bronco fan was puzzled, for instance, to learn a company called Invesco had won out in a bid to name the Broncos’ then-new stadium when it opened in 2001. A beer brewer like Coors, we get. An airline or auto manufacturer or bank, sure. Invesco? Not so much.
The oddity there paled compared with Colorado-based Comfort Dental’s three-year naming rights deal with the former (and now reprised) Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village. That alliance reached an undeniable crescendo in 2013 when promoters were able to combine the words “Nine Inch Nails” and “Comfort Dental Amphitheatre” in the same sentence, achieving a pinnacle of entertainment irony that may never again be approached.
One of the tricky elements to all this is that for all its appeal to large Denver-area employers like Charles Schwab, which has adopted the state as a sort of second home, Colorado lacks a large cadre of corporations that are:
a) based here
b) armed with multi-million dollar marketing budgets and
c) have consumer-facing business interests that can benefit from widespread public exposure.
That means the prospect base has to broaden beyond the state’s borders to encompass companies that have business ties in Colorado but aren’t necessarily headquartered here. It’s not a novel conceit: Among the many sports stadium/arena sponsors that aren’t located in their hometown markets are New York-based PepsiCo. (Denver’s own Pepsi Center), Memphis-based Federal Express (FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.) and others.
But the relative paucity of Colorado-based corporations denies an otherwise obvious pool of possible partners that have deep ties in their home markets. Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, for example, makes a no-brainer match for Bank of America Stadium, where the Carolina Panthers play football.
That said, a letter of interest did come from Denver-based marijuana retailer and accessory maker O.penVape, so at least as of mid-August there was still hope for a local business connection, not to mention some ridiculously appealing merchandising possibilities (free Cheetos and Visine with every field goal!) and an uncanny symmetry with the beloved Mile High Stadium brand. It’s not going to happen, of course, but you have to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit. Even if it was merely a token effort.