Contained within a recent MinnPost piece by local attorney and University of Minnesota journalism school graduate Marshall Tanick on finances and naming rights at his alma mater is a nugget that grabbed the attention of local sports fans:
“The Athletic Department, in the midst of its massive $190 million ‘Nothing Short of Greatness’ fundraising drive, is about to sell naming rights to the hockey arena, which has been named since its construction in 1993 for John Mariucci, the legendary Gophers hockey coach and ‘godfather’ of amateur hockey in this state.”
Wait, what? A couple of paragraphs later, he adds:
“With Mariucci soon to be minted for money, can other historic U of M sports sites be far behind? Williams Arena, recalling ironically the school’s pioneering football coach, Dr. Henry Williams, probably can’t survive with that name.”
Tanick’s larger point is to wonder whether it’s appropriate to bestow a paid-for name on a campus building, and it is centered around the announcement that the journalism school will be renamed to honor major donor Stanley Hubbard. He concludes it might be more “acceptable” for a sports facility to bear such a name, but the matter-of-factness with which he wrote about changes afoot led me to reach out to U officials to see where we stand.
A Gophers athletics official told me the U of M (much like other schools) is looking at various potential revenue streams. While there are no plans anytime soon to remove Mariucci and Williams from the building names, the official said adding a sponsor name to those buildings and their existing names is a “possibility” that would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
So yes, it does sound as if naming rights could be coming to those hallowed arenas — not as a replacement for the existing names but rather in addition to them.
The first instinct might be to recoil at the idea of a bank or other major corporation (for instance) adding its name to Mariucci Arena or Williams Arena. Those arrangements tend to sound clunky, such as “Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium,” as the University of Washington’s football stadium was renamed a couple of years ago.
But those naming rights can be big business. Washington is getting $41 million over 10 years from Alaska Airlines. Already on the U of M campus there is TCF Bank Stadium, which included a $35 million naming rights deal when it was built. Selling rights to the high-visibility Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena would bring in millions more over time (though the nearby Sports Pavilion went the other direction recently, getting renamed in honor of former Gophers AD Joel Maturi in a move not tied to any monetary gift).
Every major professional arena or stadium in the Twin Cities bears a corporate name: Target Field, Target Center, U.S. Bank Stadium, Xcel Energy Center and CHS Field. When it is baked into the original name of a building, we don’t know it any other way.
Altering an existing name to add a corporate name, though, does feel different — offering a stark reminder of how much sports, even at the college level, have become big business.
The guess here is that, like Tanick wrote, changes to Mariucci and Williams are inevitable (and probably sooner than later).
If the plan was to wipe out those names entirely, there would be an outcry. Instead, whenever it happens, the outrage level only will reach a collective grumble and fans will just keep on calling the buildings by their old names.