Sometime before George Steinbrenner's heart freezes over, the House That Ruth Built will get a new name. One imagines Steinbrenner in front of a full-length mirror, trying out different combinations: Dunkin' Donuts Yankee Stadium. Isuzu Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium byyyyy Mennen.
This month the naming rights to the NHL Predators' new arena in Nashville—now officially called the Gaylord Entertainment Center-went for more than $4 million per year over the next 20 years. If a rink in Nashville can gross $80 million for its name, imagine what Steinbrenner could pocket by selling out Yankee Stadium. The current naming-rights record of $185 million over 20 years (for Atlanta's new Philips Arena, home of the NBA's Hawks and the NHL's Thrashers) might be the opening bid, and that would pay Bernie Williams's salary. But first the Boss must find out the fate of a proposed new stadium that might become the House That Naming Rights Built.
More than half the franchises in the four major sports perform in commercially named stadiums, a percentage that is rising fast. Pasadena has commissioned a $25,000 study on a possible deal for the Rose Bowl. Baltimore wants to sell the rights to the "development process" for a planned new arena. The new Browns, who wouldn't sell the name of their venue, still raised millions by signing up a corporate sponsor for each of the four main gates at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The movement that gave us today's Qualcomms, Comericas, Safecos and Consecos started just 11 years ago when Jerry Buss changed the name of his fabulous Forum to the Great Western Forum for 15 years in exchange for a no longer fabulous $17.8 million. Washington Mutual, which bought Great Western Financial in 1997, now wants $28.4 million to let the Lakers and Kings leave Inglewood for the $100 million embrace of the younger, more enticing Staples Center, which they'll share with the woeful Clippers (henceforth the Paper Clips?).
Is no name sacred? Maybe Notre Dame Stadium—"that's if you're saying there's got to be some pureness, that we don't need to name everything," says Jeff Knapple, a former backup quarterback for the Broncos who now runs the naming-rights consulting firm Envision. But if the Golden Dome is untouchable, Fenway Park probably isn't. The Red Sox have promised not to put a corporate tag on their proposed new home, but General Sports and Entertainment CEO Andy Appleby isn't convinced. "If they could find enough money, it would be Tastee Freez Park," he says. Appleby figures Boston's Brahmins just can't afford to admit how willing they might be to rename Fenway. Why not? "If they let the word out, all the Save Fenway people would be chaining themselves to the old stadium."