Sonny Lubick Field at the new Colorado State University on-campus stadium July 18, 2017.
The football stadiums being used this fall at the University of Colorado and Colorado State opened nearly a century apart, 1924 and 2017, respectively, but both universities are in search of the same thing for their facility — a new name.
More specifically, they are looking for the paycheck that accompanies it.
CU began calling its facility Folsom Field in 1944 after the passing of legendary football coach Frederick Folsom. Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins opened in 1968, and also paid homage to a former coach, Harry Hughes, but CSU didn’t retain the name for its new facility opening in two weeks on the southwest side of the main campus. While re-branding does not appear imminent for either school, both are in the research phases of joining a national trend — finding a naming sponsor.
“We feel good about where we sit and the value of what we have here,” CU athletic director Rick George said. “We’re in the market and we’re going to be working hard on that.”
Added CSU athletic director Joe Parker: “That’s the pathway that we’re seeking.”
Universities across the country are pushing toward naming rights of athletic facilities by one of two measures: a corporate sponsor or a philanthropic donor. An analysis of the Rams’ and Buffaloes’ counterparts shows the likely naming-rights direction of each program.
The Mountain West currently features four stadiums named for corporate sponsors that are not shared with NFL franchises — Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium, New Mexico’s Dreamstyle Stadium, San Jose State’s Citizens Equity First Credit Union Stadium and Utah State’s Maverik Stadium. The most profitable among them is Boise State, which will get paid $12.5 million over 15 years from Albertsons, according to the Idaho Business Review.
The Pac-12 has the top two most lucrative corporate stadium sponsorships in the country — the University of Washington with Alaska Airlines ($41 million over 10 years) and the University of Southern California with United Airlines ($70 million over 15 years), according to the Sports Business Journal.
It’s entirely possible CU or CSU might receive a private donation large enough to justify naming their respective football stadiums in that person’s honor, akin to Big 12 donors such as Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State and Drayton McLane Jr. at Baylor. However, as noted by Don Muret of the SportsBusiness Journal, the rare availability of billionaire alumni with a drive to support athletics has led many programs in another direction.
“It seems like there’s more a movement toward corporate,” Muret said, “especially with a brand new stadium.”
At CSU, a naming rights partner appears more luxury than necessity. The Rams’ $220 million dollar stadium project was fully bonded in March 2015 with an array of football revenues planned to meet and exceed the annual debt service. Any major gifts, including naming rights, will be set aside in a stadium “rainy-day fund,” Parker said, that can be accessed should future football revenues dip.
CSU received a $20 million anonymous donation to keep the naming rights to Sonny Lubick Field on the new stadium, but as it stands today, the sign outside the facility simply reads, “Multipurpose Stadium.”
“We’re probably seeking a business that’s going to commit for at least 10 years,” Parker said. “You don’t want to get into a three-, four- or five-year cycle where you’re changing the name of the stadium. … You want a company that’s reputable. You want a business that’s in a market segment that everyone in higher education would feel good about.”
At CU, the search for naming rights partners extends beyond just Folsom Field. The athletic department is in the process of re-branding the Coors Events Center on campus, a partnership that currently does not bring any revenue to CU, George said. The Buffaloes are also gauging interest in naming rights for new spaces created within their $166 million stadium expansion project; including the indoor practice facility, suites, clubs, and eventually Folsom Field.
George plans to raise at least $15 million through those efforts by the end of the fiscal year (June 2018) as a buffer for when debt service for recent construction and renovation is due.
“I feel comfortable about that, because we haven’t named any of these buildings or clubs,” George said, “and those are the ones that typically take longer.”