Cost of Living

Big bucks for stadium names may not generate cash flow, but it boosts branding: expert

Brands pay big bucks to have the right to name a stadium or arena. But according to John Fortunato, a media management professor at Fordham University, it’s not all about the direct advertising dollars.

While naming rights might not add to profits, professor John Fortunato says there are other benefits

It cost Scotiabank $800 million to put its name on the Toronto arena, seen here lit up before a big game. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

If you're a Canadian sports fanatic, you've probably heard of the Rogers Centre and Scotiabank Arena. They're hard to miss, with their names plastered in bright lights and mentioned on national broadcasts. 

But does seeing Auston Matthews score a record-setting number of goals in Scotiabank Arena make you more likely to switch banks?

Brands pay big bucks to have the right to name a stadium or arena. The Bank of Nova Scotia's deal for the naming rights to Scotiabank Arena is worth a reported $800 million, and BCE Inc. paid $100 million for a 20-year deal to put its name on the Bell Centre in Montreal. 

"When you think about Scotiabank Arena, it is not a Toronto venue. It's one of the most iconic venues in all of North America," said Laura Curtis Ferrera, Scotiabank's chief marketing officer.

"It's one of the most tagged locations in Canada on social media. And it's been the backdrop to some of the city's most historical moments, including the Raptors winning the NBA championship … It's immeasurable in terms of value."

Scotiabank has the rights to stadiums across Canada, including the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, all the way to the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.

The Scotiabank Saddledome is part of a network of arenas with the banks name on them. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Curtis Ferrera said the bank's internal research shows those partnerships are paying off. 

"When Canadians are familiar with our sponsorship, they are three times more likely to consider Scotiabank as their primary bank, and they are three times more likely to refer us to others," said Curtis Ferrera. 

But according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Economics, there actually isn't a direct relation between a building name and turning a profit. 

The study looked at company share prices before and after naming deals and found it didn't provide an economic benefit. 

But John Fortunato, a professor in communications and media management at Fordham University in New York, says it's not all about the direct advertising dollars.

Building up a new brand

Fortunato said a naming deal can be a big boon for companies that are trying to get their name or product out there.

"You get tremendous brand awareness, right? I mean, there's just an exposure to millions of people in one simple way [and] you're not going to get that in any other format," Fortunato told Cost of Living host Paul Haavardsrud.

He uses the example of the Crypto.com Arena. The downtown Los Angeles venue had been known as the Staples Center, home of the Lakers, Clippers and Kings. It was the stage for legends such as Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretzky and countless music superstars.

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But now, Crypto.com gets to play host to those top athletes and events.

"It certainly provides that air of legitimacy for an entire industry," Fortunato says. 

And there are other benefits, he says. Having its name on the building usually gives the company its own business suite at the arena, he says, which can be used to reward staff or for business meetings with clients. 

Companies can also use a building name as part of a marketing campaign.

Scotiabank started putting its name on arenas as a way to cement itself as Canada's "hockey bank." For the hundreds of Toronto Maple Leaf fans standing outside the arena, does sponsorship matter? (Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)

"The naming rights might only be sort of the front door, if you will, of what a much larger sponsorship campaign might entail," he says. 

That's why Scotiabank got into the name game. 

Curtis Ferrera says the push started 20 years ago, as the company took a shot at being Canada's "hockey bank." 

"The natural extension of that is, what are those few iconic venues that are meaningful to Canadians that can round our full interest in hockey, our full sponsorship of hockey."

Not for everyone

But Fortunato says not every naming deal is a no-brainer. 

"I think you have to be aware of what your own brand's goals are. You know, so if it's basic exposure, this is a great vehicle. If your brand is well known, then maybe this isn't."

Besides there being no evidence that a naming contract boosts profits, it can also create a tricky scenario if a company folds. 

The Staples Center in Los Angeles had its naming rights bought by Crypto.com. Laker fans, like those seen here, may be getting exposed to a new brand just by going to a game. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

Like in the case of Crypto.com, as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies crash, teams like the Lakers and Clippers have to take a look at what impact that could have, said Fortunato. 

"If there starts to be such a negative association with that industry that it starts to reflect on them a little bit, why are you doing business with these entities?" he said. 

Branding backlash

Some venues, like Yankee Stadium in New York City, have remained brand free, opting not to take money from a big company. Fortunato says if the Yankees were to give up naming rights to the iconic stadium, the organization would be met with an outcry — but in the end, it probably wouldn't matter. 

"I think the Yankees would face huge backlash …. They would be viewed as greedy," Fortunato says. 

"Would that prevent people from going to Yankee games? Not sure. Would that stop people from watching the Yankees on television? Doubt it. Buying jerseys, buying hats? Probably not."

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People get used to it, even after the arena has changed names.

Toronto Blue Jays George Springer takes the field in Yankees Stadium, one of the few stadiums to sport an unbranded name. (Kathy Willens/The Associated Press)

To this day, some people still call the home of the Leafs and the Raptors the Air Canada Centre, and it may be hard for many to refer to the old Skydome as Rogers Centre. But as time goes on, Fortunato said the new name will take over. 

"One of the things that happens with all these branding locations, you just get used to it," he said.

"The first time you see you're like, 'Boy, that seems weird.' And then it just becomes part of the fabric."


With files from The Cost of Living

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a reporter with the CBC.

With files from The Cost of Living

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