This week, the Chicago White Sox announced they have sold the naming rights to their stadium, formerly known as U.S. Cellular Field. For the next thirteen years, the stadium will be known as “Guaranteed Rate Field”, after the online mortgage company. The announcement was met with much ridicule on Twitter, but the deal is expected to net the team some $6-7 million per year of extra revenue.
Selling the naming rights has become a common occurrence around sports, but Kansas City has been mostly immune to the phenomenon. The Royals have played at “Kauffman Stadium” ever since they re-named the stadium in 1994 to honor the founding owner. Prior to that, it was known simply as “Royals Stadium.” The Chiefs have played at “Arrowhead Stadium” since it opened in 1972.
However times are changing. Sporting Kansas City plays at “Children’s Mercy Park”, a new name after the controversy of “Livestrong Park” erupted once revelations of doping by Livestrong founder Lance Armstrong were exposed. The new downtown arena has always been known as “Sprint Center”, after the local telecommunications provider. You may have grown up going to concerts at “Sandstone Amphitheater”, but it is now known as “Providence Medical Center Amphitheater.” Even the team across the lot from the Royals, the Chiefs, are reportedly in talks to sell naming rights to Arrowhead Stadium, although they would like to retain the name “Arrowhead” somehow.
The Royals have flirted with the idea of selling naming rights before. In 2011, they were in serious talks with U.S. Bank over selling the naming rights, nearly coming to an agreement before talks fell apart. At the time, the Royals were reported to have been seeking a naming rights deal for two years. However, since then, there have been no whispers of a naming rights deal, and the team revenues have skyrocketed as the team has gotten successful.
But isn’t it a matter of time before the Royals team up with a corporate partner to re-name their home field? It would be blasphemous to ditch the name “Kauffman”, considering all that Ewing Kauffman did for the Royals and what the family means to this city. But it is not unreasonable to think the Royals could one day play at “Cerner Field at Kauffman Stadium.” As a small market franchise, the Royals need to maximize every ounce of revenue they can from the market to compete, and the lure of naming rights money seems too great to pass up.
Baseball has actually been a holdout on naming rights compared to football stadiums and multi-purpose arenas. Kauffman Stadium is one of eleven MLB parks without any naming rights deal, although both Oakland Coliseum and Angel Stadium in Anaheim once had naming rights deals that have expired. The Braves will soon abandoned Turner Field, named for owner Ted Turner, for SunTrust Park in 2017. It seems very unlikely that Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, or Dodger Stadium will ever have a naming rights deal. Camden Yards is a possibility someday. But it is only a matter of time before Marlins Park, Nationals Park, or the ballparks in Oakland and Anaheim are known for their corporate branding. Will the Royals follow that path as well?
In a way, naming rights are pretty silly. People still refer to the Bonner Springs music venue as “Sandstone”, no matter what company paid millions to get us to say otherwise. Already, Guaranteed Rate’s marketing team is trying to crowdsource a nickname for the stadium, which has produced some funny results. Royals fans will forever refer to the Royals’ home stadium as “Kauffman” or “the K”, rather than a corporate-branded mouthful like “Midwest Hemorrhoid Treatment Center Field at Kauffman Stadium” (don’t suffer Royals losses in silence!).
Let the Royals re-name the field if they want, it will likely be far less obtrusive than the barrage of advertisements already littering the outfield. If it helps them sign a better reliever, then my experience will be greater for it. Just don’t expect us to actually say the new moniker. And please don’t embarrass us with a ridiculous name like “Guaranteed Rate Field.”