Some might say Ted Rogers is toying with the curse of the corporate playground.
There's a veritable graveyard of companies that have shelled out big bucks to have their corporate brand carved into the sides of stadiums and arenas only to become embroiled in scandal or insolvency, such as Enron Field in Houston, Adelphia Coliseum in Tennessee and the Canadian Airlines Saddledome in Calgary.
Mr. Rogers, chief executive officer of Rogers Communications Inc., announced yesterday that Toronto's SkyDome, which the firm acquired recently for $25-million, is being rebranded as Rogers Centre.
But sports marketing experts say that despite some naming disasters, the move makes great sense for Rogers -- not only because it competes in an industry where marketing to consumers is paramount, but also because the price is right.
Since Rogers owns the stadium, which is located along the city's major downtown highway, it won't pay the usually hefty naming rights.
"From Rogers's standpoint it's completely a natural," said Bob Stellick of Toronto's Stellick Marketing Communications Inc.
"The question will be how large a Rogers sign can they stick on the Gardiner Expressway with 400,000 cars a day going by?"
One of the challenges for Rogers will be getting fans (the company also owns the stadium's major tenant, baseball's Toronto Blue Jays) and media to use the new name. After all, many fans still think the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens play (when they're not locked out) in the Molson Centre. That building was renamed the Bell Centre in 2002.
"When you're renaming something, it's often very difficult to get the media to call it by the revised name," Mr. Stellick said. "What will people on [all-sports TV network]TSN call it? Obviously they're a competitor."
Bell Globemedia's TSN competes directly against Rogers-owned Sportsnet. Bell Globemedia also owns the CTV network and The Globe and Mail.
Companies look at various factors when calculating the value of naming rights. The most obvious is how often the brand name is used in the media and the local community. But naming deals also include various other rights, from exclusive supplier and advertising relationships to corporate boxes.
In 1994, General Motors of Canada Ltd. snapped up the rights to slap its name on the side of Vancouver's pro hockey and basketball facility, a decision spokesman Stew Low says has been money well spent. (The company hasn't disclosed what it paid to call the arena General Motors Place.)
"It's really all about marketing and building your presence and awareness within that community," he said. "It has absolutely worked."
Because of the deal, GM's name is used millions of times each year on media broadcasts, ticket stubs and more, Mr. Low said. But he said companies have to do more than spend money for the name; they also have to leverage the investment.
GM does so by putting car displays in the venue, painting its name on the ice surface, branding the boards around the ice and getting involved in the NHL's Vancouver Canucks' charitable foundation, he said. "It has to be a holistic approach as opposed to just the name on the building."
Keith McIntyre, president of K. Mac & Associates in Mississauga, which advises companies on sports marketing, says renaming SkyDome makes sense for Rogers. He said branding of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto also works well, since the airline takes a disproportionate share of revenue from business people, who show up in large numbers to watch pro sports.
But for every deal that works, there are just as many that don't, Mr. McIntyre said. He believes naming rights have become passé because they are now so common.
"At one point it was a unique way to do sports marketing, to get a company name or product out there. But everybody's doing it at all levels now," he said.
Part of the reason there are so many failures among companies who buy naming rights is that fast-rising firms see it as a great way to look big and important. And occasionally, companies that rise fast, fall just as quickly.
"It's a bit of an ego boost for a lot of these companies. It's a bit of an ego boost for these CEOs," Mr. McIntyre said.
Houston's Enron Field has been renamed Minute Maid Park after fraudulent accounting at Enron Corp. led to it filing for bankruptcy protection in 2001. Adelphia Coliseum became The Coliseum after Adelphia Communications Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 after a major scandal. And the Canadian Airlines Saddledome became Pengrowth Saddledome after the nearly insolvent airline was acquired by Air Canada in 2000.
The stadium name game
Rogers Communications announced yesterday that the SkyDome, above, the home of the Toronto Blue Jays, has been renamed the Rogers Centre. Many of Canada's sports palaces have been branded with corporate monikers, but there are also examples where companies have shelled out big dollars before succumbing to scandal or insolvency.
Canadian sports venues with corporate names
Air Canada Centre Toronto
n NHL, NBA
Canad Inns Stadium Winnipeg
Rexall Place Edmonton
(formerly Northlands Coliseum,
formerly SkyReach Centre)
Bell Centre Montreal
(formerly Molson Centre)
GM Place Vancouver
The Corel Centre Ottawa
MTS Centre Winnipeg
Enron Field Houston
n Now Minute Maid Park
n Fraudulent accounting led to a filing for bankruptcy protection in 2001.
Canadian Airlines Saddledome Calgary
n Now Pengrowth Saddledome
n Was losing $2-million a day before being acquired by Air Canada in 2000.
Adelphia Stadium Tennessee
n Now The Coliseum
n Filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 because of major scandal.
PSINet Stadium Baltimore
n Now M&T Bank Stadium
n PSINet filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001.
TWA Dome St. Louis
n Now Edward Jones Dome
n Financial troubles at TWA led demise of brand through American Airlines takeover in 2001.