Names of college venues rarely change

Published: Monday, April 14 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

While names of professional sports venues change with the economic fortunes of corporate sponsors, the identities of college stadiums and arenas in Utah are all but set in stone.
Campus venues typically are named in perpetuity for wealthy donors to the athletic program or distinguished coaches like LaVell Edwards at Brigham Young University. Only of them — Elizabeth Dee Shaw Stewart Stadium at Weber State University — is named after a woman. She and her husband, Donnell B. Stewart, donated some $12 million to the school over their lifetimes.
The Utah State University football stadium has borne the name of E. Lowell "Dick" Romney since 1968. Romney, who coached the Aggies from 1919 to 1948, is the winningest football coach in school history.
"As far as I know, ours (naming rights) are not for sale," said Doug Hoffman, USU sports information director, adding the most collegiate venues don't bear corporate names.
But that doesn't mean the school's ears wouldn't be pricked if an offer came along.
"My guess is that if someone approached Utah State about making a donation and changing the name of one those facilities, I'm sure we would listen," Hoffman said.
Several universities in the West have not only listened but have enlisted corporate sponsorship, a growing trend in college sports.
Boise State University has the Taco Bell Arena, Arizona State the Wells Fargo Arena and Fresno State the Save Mart Center.
"So much of what we see in professional sports percolates into the college scene," said Dennis Howard, a business professor at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. "They are starting corporatize."
The cost to build and maintain athletic facilities on already cash-strapped college campuses is becoming much more expensive, said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
And while schools might want to hold on to tradition, economic realities dictate otherwise.
"Historically buildings were named after people but historically buildings haven't cost $200 million," he said.
Furthermore, Carter said, fan tolerance of corporate naming rights isn't that big of an issue anymore. "It really doesn't bother anybody," he said.
Companies are interested in college campuses because they want to reach young people who are establishing their product preferences, he said. Fast-food and store chains have a chance to keep customers for life if they handle their business right.
The University of Utah has not received corporate overtures regarding its athletic facilities, said Chris Ritrievi, associate athletics director.
"A company or donor just doesn't walk in the door and say, 'I've got a lot of money to renovate or build a stadium if you put my name on it,"' he said.
The basketball arena has been known Huntsman Center since school accepted $5 million from billionaire industrialist Jon M. Huntsman Sr. in 1987. The football stadium was named for U. benefactor Robert L. Rice in 1972. It was hyphenated to Rice-Eccles Stadium after the George S. and Dore Eccles Foundation donated $10 million for expansion and renovation 10 years ago.
Those names won't change, though if something did materialize, Ritrievi would have to consider it. "But I think at this university and many other universities that are traditional in their approach, it would not be something they would automatically do."
Universities spend years cultivating relationships with wealthy potential donors who they can go to should facilities need upgrading or if they're building new. "It's a process, not an event," Ritrievi said.
At BYU, the J. Willard Marriott Sr. family has contributed millions of dollars to campus facilities including the basketball arena known as the Marriott Center.
"The name is not contingent upon sponsorship," said Carri Jenkins, university spokeswoman. "We have no intent of changing it."

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