September 9th, 2005

Don't Sell U Stadium Name to Highest Bidder

By Tim Mahoney
Minneapolis Star Tribune

What’s really for sale with the naming rights to a new Gophers stadium? That’s the question I keep asking myself as the likelihood of a special session on stadiums increases.

During the special session, legislators are going to be asked to commit a significant amount of public money—just under $100 million or 40 percent of the final $235 million cost—to build a new football stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

That’s all well and good. I personally support the construction of a stadium on campus and I believe the state should step up and provide a share of the funding. However, I also believe if the state commits that much to an on-campus stadium, the name of the stadium should reflect the public ownership all of us have in it.

That’s why I’m proposing that, like the old Gophers football stadium that stood for 68 years, we name the new stadium Veterans Memorial Stadium, rather than selling the name to the highest bidder. After all, this is going to be our stadium, and the name should reflect our values rather than just another marketing opportunity.

Under the current plan, TCF Bank has offered to pick up 15 percent of the stadium’s cost ($35 million) in exchange for exclusive naming rights. While I’m certainly not opposed to public-private partnership, I’m wary of the University of Minnesota becoming the first Big Ten school to sell our stadium’s name to a corporation.

TCF’s offer comes with other strings attached. The contract emphasizes that the word “Gophers” may not be inserted into the stadium name, lest fans refer to the stadium by the team that plays there. TCF will have primary access to advertising within the stadium and its own corporate suite.

In addition, TCF already has an exclusive deal to advertise debit cards and checking accounts to students. The “U Card” student ID carried by all 51,000 “U” students is simultaneously a TCF Bank ATM card for the students who open an account, and TCF has 10 ATM machines and bank space on campus.

The question here is more than just the branding of our public buildings and institutions: It’s also about priorities and how they are reflected in our public spaces. The state would only need to contribute an extra $1.4 million a year to replace the naming agreement. Rather than selling the names of our public spaces and buildings to the highest bidders, we should be using the naming of this new stadium as an opportunity to do something noble.

The old Veterans Memorial Stadium, built in 1924, was dedicated to the men and women who served and died in the “Great War.” It was paid for with donations from 8,500 alumni, students, faculty and friends. A tablet installed above the central arch read, “This stadium was erected by members and friends of the University to honor the men and women of Minnesota who served their country in time of war.” That tablet reminded everyone who entered of the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who gave so much for our freedom.

We need more reminders like that today. We have a chance with the new Gophers football stadium. Let’s take it.

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