If the extraordinarily tumultuous 2020 has taught us anything, it has highlighted what is really important. As Covid-19 has forced people to stay at home, it’s highlighted just how much joy and meaning we (even us introverts) find from human interaction.
And as the virus has prevented baseball from happening until July, its absence reveals just how important the existence of baseball is, regardless of quality. Over the last two years, I became weary of Kansas City Royals teams that were singularly awful, wondering if it wouldn’t be better for fans if there was no baseball at all (the answer, as revealed by 2020, is no).
So, secondary things such as, oh, the name of the building where the sportsball happens—those things don’t really matter. It genuinely has no bearing on our baseball experience and fandom. This year has made that even more abundantly clear: there are more important things that really matter.
However, that doesn’t mean that the name of a stadium can’t be meaningful. Kauffman Stadium opened as Royals Stadium in 1973, before corporate naming rights were quite the ubiquity they are today. It was given the Kauffman name in 1993 just before the death of Ewing Kauffman, original owner of the club and primary reason for its existence. Nearly three decades have passed and its name has not changed.
Across the Truman Sports Complex parking lot, Arrowhead Stadium has an even longer history with its name. Arrowhead opened in 1972, and nearly half a century has passed with no name change.
But as with every stadium without a corporate naming rights deal, the potential for one is always around the corner. The average NFL stadium naming rights are valued at about $8 million per year, while the average MLB stadium naming rights are valued at about $5 million per year. Record breaking cash? No. But those deals are the rare income that is almost pure revenue, and those millions per year add up over five, 10, 20, 30 years.
We’re talking about this because, once again, naming rights rumors are tumbling around about one of the Truman Sports Complex stadiums. Sources informed Sports Business Daily that the Chiefs were closing in on a naming deal with GEHA Health. The Chiefs have since, rather humorously, strongly and directly denied such rumors, but what’s out there is out there. Depending on how you look at it, the NFL will either lose money or simply won’t make as much as they have previously due to Covid. That the Chiefs would look into naming rights is perhaps inevitable.
Royals fans should brace for a similar rumor regarding Kauffman Stadium. No, not because I have any inside information whatsoever, but simply because the stars are almost too aligned. The vast majority of stadiums that house the Big Four sports leagues—the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL—have corporate sponsored names. Not only that, but MLB clubs might just lose money this year. The Royals also have a brand new owning group, who spent a literal billion dollars on the club and haven’t seen a cent of revenue.
Still, I hope that it doesn’t happen. Symbolism is meaningless in the material world, sure. Whether or not Adalberto Mondesi becomes a star or Brady Singer develops into a competent starting pitcher or Whit Merrifield becomes the American League hit leader have absolutely nothing to do with the name of the building where they play half their games.
But symbolism exists because it is meaningful in some fashion, in our cognition and in our hearts. At some point in this upcoming decade, the Royals and the city of Kansas City will have to decide whether or not they will renovate Kauffman or build a new stadium downtown. And the name of Kauffman Stadium here really, truly matters. If it had been a parade of random, soulless corporate mumbo jumbo—like Price Chopper Field, Cerner Park, Time Warner Stadium—I do not think it would have the reputation and history that it currently does.
As it stands, Kauffman Stadium is one of the single-digit stadiums in MLB not named after a corporation. It is the sixth-oldest active MLB field. It’s the K. Kauffman. To name it something else would be bizarre. No, it wouldn’t change the on-field product. But the on-field product is only a part of the Major League Baseball experience, and the Kansas City Royals experience. The name matters because it matters to us.