Sacred Territory For Sale

During recent telecasts of games at the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets, cameras spent as much time ogling fans at various stadium eateries and zeroing in on sponsored accouterments as on the game.

At Yankee Stadium, fans gather at such locations (often while the game is in progress) as The Hard Rock Cafe, NYY Steakhouse, the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar and the Audi Yankees Club (located on the H&R Block Suite Level) while viewing the game on the Mitsubishi Diamond Vision scoreboard, Sony HD monitors and the Daktroniks LED ribbon board.

At Citi Field, the $400 million naming rights deal has come under scrutiny due to the financial corporation's beleaguered finances. But fans have accepted without qualms such sponsored destinations as the 2K Sports FanFest area and the "Pepsi Porch," a 1,284-seat area in right field that extends over the playing field. A giant 37-foot by 89-foot Pepsi sign above it is visible from surrounding neighborhoods, highways and subway lines.

In sports, due mainly to escalating costs and higher salaries, territory that had been sacred is now "For Sale," and not just at new venues. Among them:

  • Fenway Park opened in 1912 and is MLB's oldest stadium, Over the past few years, the Boston Red Sox have put Fenway through major renovations, including adding seats atop and ads on the legendary Green Monster in left field, the Coca-Cola Corner near the left field foul pole and the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck.
  • Chicago's Wrigley Field is the second-oldest MLB stadium (opened in 1914 as Weeghman Park). A five-year, $10.8 million deal with Under Armour in 2007 included the first ads on two 7-foot by 12-foot outfield doors nestled in the iconic ivory-covered walls. This season, the Cubs signed a deal with Diageo to open the Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field, an 8,000-square-foot eatery. A section in Wrigley's upper deck was renamed from the Bank of America Patio to the Smirnoff Patio.
  • During the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs, in addition to ads on boards inside the rink, the NHL began to put league branding on the ice and to superimpose virtual ads on glass panels. "[We want] to build more equity with our fans and our partners," said John Collins, COO at the NHL. "The field, the ice, the court has the ultimate credibility."
  • The WNBA has allowed McDonald's and other logos on player uniforms. Major League Soccer has nine teams with sponsors emblazoned across the front of their respective jerseys. When the Red Sox and Oakland A's opened the 2008 season in Tokyo, MLB allowed Boston to put team sponsor EMC logos on their uniforms. There is a big leap to Nascar-logoed jumpsuits, but the encroachment in MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL has begun.

Despite the economy, beer companies are flexing their marketing muscles. In April, MillerCoors replaced Anheuser-Busch InBev as the domestic beer sponsor at Toyota Park, home of MLS's Chicago Fire. The deal includes a Miller Lite Party Deck for fans of drinking age. And Miami's Dolphin Stadium, which will play host to Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010, has just been renamed Land Shark Stadium under a one-year deal with Anheuser-Busch.

In 2004, baseball fans reacted with horror when MLB put "Spider-Man 2" logos on bases (although other in-stadium Marvel Studios product placement was accepted). "The problem in sports marketing, particularly in baseball, is you're always walking a very sensitive line," MLB commissioner Bud Selig said during the brouhaha. Fans have come a long way since then, as little protest was heard during the 2007 World Series when Fox showed Red Sox teammates Jacoby Ellsbury and Royce Clayton in the dugout discussing a Taco Bell promotion.

The standard in marketing is now being set by the new $1.1 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys, which expects to hold more than 100,000 people for Super Bowl XLV in 2011. There are 350 private suites, locations and venues with sponsors including American Airlines, Pepsi, Bank of America, Dr Pepper and MillerCoors; and a Mitsubishi Electronic scoreboard 90 feet above the field that stretches from one 20-yard line to the other. Ironically, still missing is a corporate naming rights deal, which Cowboys executives said would eventually happen, though not before the stadium opens with a George Strait-Reba McEntire concert on June 6.

If anyone thinks that any part of the stadium or arena remains sacred, they should visit Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The home of the NBA's Nets (until the team's planned move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2011) has literally been sub-sub-sub divided among many of the team's 100 official sponsors.

Under the auspices of Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Nets Sports and Entertainment and former vp-corporate sponsorship at NASCAR, the Nets have had sponsorship branding on seat backs, stairwells, entire seating sections, walkways and even the visitor's dressing room and towels.

"We're building around the equity of the Nets, of families coming to the game and having fun." said Yormark. "So the challenge is getting fans to associate our sponsors with the team, to get them to purchase the goods or services our marketing partners offer."

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