NAME GAME CSU, CU to seek ath­let­ics rev­enue through foot­ball sta­dium nam­ing rights

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle Fredrick­son

The foot­ball sta­di­ums be­ing used this fall at the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado and Colorado State opened nearly a cen­tury apart, 1924 and 2017, re­spec­tively, but both uni­ver­si­ties are in search of the same thing for their fa­cil­ity — a new name.

More specif­i­cally, they are look­ing for the pay­check that ac­com­pa­nies it.

CU be­gan call­ing its fa­cil­ity Fol­som Field in 1944 af­ter the pass­ing of leg­endary foot­ball coach Fred­er­ick Fol­som.

Hughes Sta­dium in Fort Collins opened in 1968, and also paid ho­mage to a for­mer coach, Harry Hughes, but CSU didn’t re­tain the name for its new fa­cil­ity open­ing in two weeks on the south­west side of the main cam­pus. While re-brand­ing does not ap­pear im­mi­nent for ei­ther school, both are in the re­search phases of join­ing a na­tional trend — find­ing a nam­ing spon­sor.

“We feel good about where we sit and the value of what we have here,” CU ath­letic di­rec­tor Rick Ge­orge said. “We’re in the mar­ket and we’re go­ing to be work­ing hard on that.”

Added CSU ath­letic di­rec­tor Joe Parker: “That’s the path­way that we’re seek­ing.”

Uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try are push­ing to­ward nam­ing rights of ath­letic fa­cil­i­ties by one of two mea­sures: a cor­po­rate spon­sor or a phil­an­thropic donor. CU and CSU did not pro­vide cost es­ti­mates for po­ten­tial nam­ing rights part­ners as they ne­go­ti­ate terms with in­ter­ested par­ties, but an anal­y­sis of the Rams’ and Buf­faloes’ coun­ter­parts shows the likely di­rec­tion of each pro­gram.

The Moun­tain West cur­rently fea­tures four sta­di­ums named for cor­po­rate spon­sors that are not shared with NFL fran­chises — Boise State’s Al­bert­sons Sta­dium, New Mex­ico’s Dream­style Sta­dium, San Jose State’s Cit­i­zens Eq­uity First Credit Union Sta­dium and Utah State’s Maverik Sta­dium. The most prof­itable among them is Boise State, which will get paid $12.5 mil­lion over 15 years from Al­bert­sons, ac­cord­ing to the Idaho Busi­ness Re­view.

The Pac-12 has the top two most lu­cra­tive cor­po­rate sta­dium spon­sor­ships in the coun­try — the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton with Alaska Air­lines ($41 mil­lion over 10 years) and the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia with United Air­lines ($70 mil­lion over 15 years), ac­cord­ing to the Sports Busi­ness Jour­nal.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble CU or CSU might re­ceive a pri­vate do­na­tion large enough to jus­tify nam­ing their re­spec­tive foot­ball sta­di­ums in that per­son’s honor, akin to Big 12 donors such as Boone Pick­ens at Ok­la­homa State and Dray­ton Mclane Jr. at Bay­lor. How­ever, as noted by Don Muret of the Sports­busi­ness Jour­nal, the rare avail­abil­ity of bil­lion­aire alumni with a drive to sup­port ath­let­ics has led many pro­grams in an­other di­rec­tion.

“It seems like there’s more a move­ment to­ward cor­po­rate,” Muret said, “es­pe­cially with a brand new sta­dium.”

At CSU, a nam­ing rights part­ner ap­pears more lux­ury than ne­ces­sity. The Rams’ $220 mil­lion dol­lar sta­dium project was fully bonded in March 2015 with an ar­ray of foot­ball rev­enues planned to meet and ex­ceed the an­nual debt ser­vice. Any ma­jor gifts, in­clud­ing nam­ing rights, will be set aside in a sta­dium “rainy-day fund,” Parker said, that can be ac­cessed should fu­ture foot­ball rev­enues dip.

CSU re­ceived a $20 mil­lion anony­mous do­na­tion to keep the nam­ing rights to Sonny Lu­bick Field on the new sta­dium, but as it stands to­day, the sign out­side the fa­cil­ity sim­ply reads, “Mul­ti­pur­pose Sta­dium.”

“We’re prob­a­bly seek­ing a busi­ness that’s go­ing to com­mit for at least 10 years,” Parker said. “You don’t want to get into a three-, four- or five-year cy­cle where you’re chang­ing the name of the sta­dium. … You want a com­pany that’s rep­utable. You want a busi­ness that’s in a mar­ket seg­ment that ev­ery­one in higher ed­u­ca­tion would feel good about.”

At CU, the search for nam­ing rights part­ners ex­tends beyond just Fol­som Field. The ath­letic de­part­ment is in the process of re-brand­ing the Coors Events Cen­ter on cam­pus, a part­ner­ship that cur­rently does not bring any rev­enue to CU, Ge­orge said.

The Buf­faloes are also gaug­ing in­ter­est in nam­ing rights for new spa­ces cre­ated within their $166 mil­lion sta­dium ex­pan­sion project; in­clud­ing the in­door prac­tice fa­cil­ity, suites, clubs and, even­tu­ally, Fol­som Field.

Ge­orge plans to raise at least $15 mil­lion through those ef­forts by the end of the fis­cal year (June 2018) as a buffer for when debt ser­vice for re­cent con­struc­tion and ren­o­va­tion is due.

“I feel com­fort­able about that, be­cause we haven’t named any of these build­ings or clubs,” Ge­orge said, “and those are the ones that typ­i­cally take longer.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

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