Though the origin of naming rights may be debated, certainly a watershed moment in their development was the 1972-73 naming rights agreement between Rich Products, a Buffalo food manufacturer, and Erie County which enabled the former to put its name on a new football stadium in Orchard Park, New York, the home of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills. The agreement called for Rich Foods to pay $1.5 million over 25 years in exchange for signage at the stadium and a commercial association with the franchise.
The naming rights phenomenon continued in northern New York when Carrier Corporation, a maker of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment and refrigeration systems, concluded an agreement with Syracuse University in 1979 to name the school’s new athletic facility. Then, in 1986, Pilot Air Freight purchased the naming rights from the City of Buffalo for the new stadium that housed the Buffalo Bisons, a minor league baseball team.
About this same time, California-based Arco Oil bought the naming rights to the new arena in Sacramento that would be home (Arco Arena) for the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association. In 1988, Great Western Bank became the first company to re-name a facility, theForum in Los Angeles, which was then the home court of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Interest in naming rights really began to gain steam in the 1990's when a slew of professional facilities, starting with the Target Center in Minneapolis (home of the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves), hastened to adopt corporate monikers. Not surprisingly, the fees associated with these sponsorship's also increased—in some cases dramatically.
In the last 15 years, the corporate interest in naming rights has shown no signs of letting up. Based on the latest public information, there are now 113 naming rights agreements currently in place for major league facilities in North America alone, and more than half of them have been done in the last decade. In addition, there are scores of naming rights deals for minor league and collegiate facilities, convention centers, amphitheaters, theaters, even high school stadiums.