Mariucci Arena got a new name Monday. The Gophers will now call their men’s hockey shrine 3M Arena at Mariucci.
The University of Minnesota announced a 14-year, $11.2 million sponsorship deal with St. Paul-based 3M, which drew mostly positive reviews from the Gophers hockey community.
But questions immediately turned to Williams Arena. Is the renaming of the Gophers basketball home inevitable, too?
“Well, I’m hoping it’s inevitable,” said Lou Nanne, who spearheads fundraising for the university’s $160 million Athletes Village, which opens in January. “That’s what we’re working on. That’s very important to us and we want to do the same type of thing.”
Nanne played under John Mariucci, one of the most iconic names in Minnesota hockey history. Mariucci was an All-America for the Gophers in 1940 and went on to coach the team for 13 seasons, while working with communities around the state to build arenas and grow the game.
Herb Brooks, another of Mariucci’s former players, helped lead the charge to have the hockey side of Williams Arena renamed “Mariucci Arena” in 1985. The team moved across 4th Street into a new building in 1993 and had always called that “Mariucci Arena.”
“I’m not crazy about [the change], quite frankly,” said Gary Gambucci, an All-America center under Mariucci in 1968. “John was so instrumental to Minnesota hockey. The younger generation has no idea what he meant.
“I believe if any arena should retain someone in its primary name, it would be John Mariucci for all he did to champion Minnesota hockey and American hockey.
“[The new name is] not as good as it could be, but let’s face it, it’s a sign of the times. I knew it was just a matter of time. What are you going to do? It’s an arms’ race.”
The Gophers joined the wave of teams that have sold naming rights. This May, USC sold naming rights to the Los Angeles Coliseum to United Airlines for $70 million over 15 years. The University of Washington received a 10-year, $41 million deal to rename its football venue Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium.
The Twin Cities are filled with corporate-named sports venues: TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field, Target Center, U.S. Bank Stadium, Xcel Energy Center and CHS Field. What made this different is all those other facilities have had the same names since they opened.
“Obviously, I feel like we’re enhancing our program,” Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said. “When you can align your program with a company like 3M, and what it means not only to the state of Minnesota but worldwide, I mean, what a great opportunity.”
Coyle added: “When people take a step back and recognize that Mariucci is still a part of this facility — he’s still recognized heavily in this facility — and we’re just excited and thrilled that 3M is believing in us and being part of this great tradition.”
Over the past 90 years, 3M has donated $94 million to the university, according to Paul Acito, the company’s vice president and chief marketing officer.
Most of this sponsorship money will go toward the Athletes Village. Including the 3M donation, Coyle said $92 million has been raised toward the Village, leaving the Gophers within $68 million of their goal to fundraise the entire thing.
Coyle said he personally has had no discussions with a corporation about the naming rights to Williams Arena. “It’s got to be the right fit,” he said.
Williams Arena opened in 1928 as the “Minnesota Field House.” It was remodeled in 1950 and renamed after Dr. Henry L. Williams, who coached Gophers football from 1900 to 1921.
Asked about the potential renaming of “the Barn,” Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino said: “I’m open for whatever Mark [Coyle] feels is best for our athletic department.”
Meanwhile, the hockey community was digesting that new name — 3M Arena at Mariucci.
“That’s kind of the nature of the way things are today, especially when you want the athletic department to be self-sufficient,” Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia said. “… And as they talked about, 3M is such an iconic corporation in our state, it makes perfect sense.”
John Mariucci Jr., son of the former coach, issued a statement on behalf of the family. He said his father “would have been thrilled to see 3M showing so much support for the University and for men’s hockey. … We are happy that 3M and the U felt it was important to continue honoring our father and grandfather’s legacy and kept the Mariucci name tied to the arena.”
Patti Brooks, Herb’s widow, added: “[3M’s] a great Minnesota company. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as the Mariucci name is still in there.”
Star Tribune staff writer Marcus Fuller contributed to this report.