About Utah: Changing names of ballparks is a tradition

Published: Friday, April 10 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Salt Lake Bees have a new ballpark to play in this season. Or at least the name is new.

After 15 seasons at first Franklin Quest Field and then Franklin Covey Field, the city's minor league team is playing this year at Spring Mobile Ballpark.

If such changes used to confuse and discombobulate sports fans, those days are long gone. These days, stadiums change names as often as A-Rod changes his steroid stories.

Usually, the reason is money. Actually, change that. The reason is always money.

In 1994, Franklin — which had a name change of its own in the interim — paid $1.4 million to have its moniker on the stadium for 15 years. The terms of the Spring Mobile deal have not been disclosed, although online sources estimate that naming rights for minor league stadiums average around $338,000 a year. Call it a ballpark figure.

Neither Franklin Covey, a training and consulting company, nor Spring Mobile, a cell phone retailer, have any direct correlation to baseball.

But, then, neither do Fenway nor Wrigley. And they're only the two biggest names in stadium-naming history.

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is the oldest baseball stadium in the world, dating back to 1912 when the ballfield was built in the Fenway district of Boston. The owner of the Red Sox, John Taylor, also owned Fenway Realty Co. and named the ballpark after his business. And he didn't charge himself anything.

Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, dates back almost as long as Fenway, to 1914. The ballpark was known as Cubs Field in 1926 when the name was changed to Wrigley Field, in honor of William Wrigley Jr., the team owner, who happened to own the Wrigley chewing gum company.

The Wrigleys didn't have to pay for naming rights, either, and after the ballpark was sold in 1981, the name was so entrenched that it remained.

Curiously, for decades few baseball stadiums, or sports stadiums in general, followed the Fenway-Wrigley trend of using the name of the ballpark for advertising.

It wasn't until the late 1970s that ballparks got serious about selling their names to someone else. And at that, not everyone has signed on. In New York, Yankee Stadium, for instance, remains Yankee Stadium, even after a recent $1.5 billion rebuild. And in Los Angeles, Dodger Stadium will probably always be Dodger Stadium.

Sometimes, name affiliation can end up backfiring, as was the case in 1999 when the Houston Astros sold naming rights to a local energy company.

Enron Field didn't end up having the cachet the Astros were looking for.

The Astros bought the naming rights back (and later sold them to Minute Maid).

In 2009, 19 of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises have naming rights attached to their ballparks, which is a similar percentage as the Pacific Coast League, where the Salt Lake Bees play.

Of the 16 teams in the PCL, 10 have stadium naming rights. Two are named after electric companies (Tucson Electric Park and PGE Park in Portland); one is named for a financial services company (Principal Park in Des Moines), one for a credit union (Security Service Field in Colorado Springs), one for an auto parts company (AutoZone Park in Memphis), one for a telecommunications company (AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City), one for a computer company (Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas), one for a supermarket chain (Raley Field in Sacramento), one for a casino (Chukchansi Park in Fresno), and one for a cell phone retailer (Spring Mobile Ballpark in You Know Where).

Two PCL parks are named for their teams — Isotopes Park in Albuquerque and Zephyr Field in New Orleans. Four ballparks, by the way, are still named after people who helped support baseball in their city: Herschel Greer Stadium in Nashville, Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha and Cashman Field in Las Vegas.

Salt Lake's ballpark used to have such a name. From 1946 through 1994, the field at 900 South was known as Derks Field, after John C. Derks, community baseball enthusiast and longtime sports editor at the Salt Lake Tribune.

Derks died in 1944, before the stadium was named after him and long before it would be changed to a cell phone retailer.

Spring Mobile Ballpark. Has a nice ring to it.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS