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New Research: Stadium Naming Rights

Sports fans report on fit and feel of corporate sponsors

At an average cost of $6.5 million dollars per year, stadium naming rights in the “Big Four” professional leagues are a major financial investment for brands. With this much at stake, it’s crucial for brands to understand more about the effectiveness of entering into naming rights deals and the potential ROI associated with it.

To better understand fan attitudes toward stadium naming rights deals and name changes, GMR surveyed over 1,600 sports fans across the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 54. We tested:

Recall: Whether or not sports fans could correctly recall the official names of the stadiums used by teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.

Fit: Fans’ attitudes and opinions of said naming rights deals—whether or not the partnerships feel like a good ‘fit’ to fans.

Here’s what we found.

It’s all good!

Rest assured, potential corporate sponsors—over half (51%) of sports fans have positive feelings toward stadium naming rights. 34% of fans were indifferent and only 15% had negative feelings toward naming rights deals.

What’s more, 42% of sports fans reported feeling more positively about the brand, and one third (36%) of sports fans would consider purchasing a product or service from a brand as a result of the naming rights deal.

Younger fans are key

Younger sports fans (18-34) are even more receptive to this category of sports sponsorships than older sports fans (35+), so it seems unlikely that overall positivity will decline any time soon. Younger fans are also more likely to say that corporate stadium names fit with the stadiums themselves.

We’ve found that, as a generation that’s grown up with marketing embedded in nearly every form of entertainment, younger sports fans are more receptive to, and accepting of, corporate presence in professional sports. In fact, we suspect that this marketing-savvy generation is most likely aware of the beneficial financial gains that their favorite teams are receiving on behalf of sponsoring brands, aiding in positive sentiment.

If possible, go local

Our research finds that sports fans prefer properties to engage in naming rights sponsorships with brands that are based, or operate, locally in their team’s market. Investment in the home stadium by a company with local roots feels like an investment in the franchise and community itself. Brands looking to appeal to a local consumer base should consider an investment in naming rights.

Long-term deals are more effective

Increased brand awareness is a key benefit of acquiring the naming rights for a major stadium. However, this benefit will take more than a season to take effect.

Our research shows that the best performing naming rights stadiums (those with above average recall and fit) have a current name that is 13.9 years old. In comparison, the lowest performing naming rights stadiums (those with below average recall and fit) have a current name that is 6.1 years old.

In short, be patient with your stadium name’s recall and fit scores. The longer a stadium keeps its name, the more likely fans are to recall the naming rights sponsor and agree that it’s a good fit for the stadium and team.

It’s all in the name

Roughly three-fourths of stadiums with above-average recall and fit have one key condition in common: they’ve never had a name change (69%). Conversely, only 20% of those stadiums who have had name changes showed above-average recall and fit. We attribute this to simple name confusion among sports fans. The good news is that a long-term deal has the potential to rectify this confusion, because the longer a team stays in a deal, the more likely fans will use the current name, and not a stadium name from the past.

More home teams = amplified exposure

It’s also beneficial for brands to enter naming rights deals with properties that are home to multiple teams, such as the Staples Center, which is home to the Los Angeles Kings, Lakers, Clippers and Sparks. 59% of stadiums with above average recall and fit have multiple team tenants, compared to just 2% for stadiums with below average recall and fit. Increased exposure to a stadium means increased exposure to your brand.

With strategic planning, brands and properties can enter into partnerships that are not only beneficial to both parties, but also resonate with fans and regional communities. It’s also crucial to look beyond just naming rights, maximizing brand investment through integrated activation planning that continues to tell the brand story inside and outside the stadium.

At GMR, we recognize the impact of fan perception on the true effectiveness of stadium naming rights deals, and we have the research, insights and industry experience to craft successful partnerships. 

Want to make sure your sponsorship dollars are well spent? Talk to one of our experts today.


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