By Hannah Knowles, email@example.com
SAN JOSE -- With its plan to rename Spartan Stadium after a credit union in exchange for $8 million, San Jose State joins a growing number of universities nationwide striking lucrative corporate deals to rebrand athletics facilities.
The partnership, which California State University trustees approved last month, will turn San Jose State University's football and soccer team turf into "CEFCU Stadium — Home of the Spartans," or just "CEFCU Stadium." That's short for Citizens Equity First Credit Union.
While other California schools have entered similar deals for smaller sports centers like basketball arenas, SJSU will be the first NCAA Division I school in the state to sell naming rights for its stadium to a company. San Diego State's football team plays in a stadium named for the tech company Qualcomm, but the school does not own the venue and shares it with a pro team, the San Diego Chargers.
Traditionally, universities name arenas and stadiums after big donors, notable staff or simply after the institution itself, but corporate naming -- ubiquitous among professional sports facilities -- is on the rise among colleges.
"We're constantly looking for corporate partners and sponsorship opportunities, and that's an expanding area only limited by one's imagination," said Gene Bleymaier, SJSU's director of athletics.
CEFCU will give the university $8.6 million to support the SJSU athletics department through scholarships, improvements to facilities and other programs. The payment is spread out over the 15-year agreement, starting this school year with $450,000 and rising annually to adjust for inflation.
SJSU's stadium partnership is part of the school's broader push to find new sources of revenue, both philanthropic and corporate -- not just in athletics but for the university as a whole, said Paul Lanning, vice president of university advancement.
"Universities and colleges are seeking ways to continue to augment constrained budgets," Lanning said. "Public-private partnerships like this one -- they're going to be a very important element of our strategy going forward."
The strategy extends beyond athletics. Recently, SJSU entered a five-year agreement with Cisco Systems worth $1,050,000 to name a laboratory and professorship in the College of Engineering.
Lanning said that the university's budget is in "good shape," having stabilized since a last-minute scramble for budget cuts in 2013. But state funding can't cover all of SJSU's needs, he said, especially as the CSU system grapples with growing demand.
The CEFCU deal, SJSU's largest corporate sponsorship to date, will help restore an aging stadium to top shape with improved concessions and amenities for spectators. It will also help cover new costs in the athletics department caused by a change in NCAA rules last year that meant the university needed to contribute about $1.6 million more per year toward sports scholarships. The NCAA expanded the definition of an athletic scholarship to include travel expenses and other miscellaneous items, which effectively raised the amount of money that schools are allowed to provide their players. Currently, SJSU is tapping general university resources to provide those extra dollars.
SJSU found CEFCU through a third party, a sports consulting company called Bonham/Wills & Associates that specializes in naming deals. CEFCU has been a lower-level Spartan Stadium sponsor since 2011, one of over 100 sponsors at various levels throughout the entire SJSU athletics department.
While some cash-strapped colleges have embraced brand names from AT&T to Papa Johns for their stadiums, other universities have shied away from the corporate trend and turned down millions of dollars. In 2007, shortly after University of Minnesota debuted TCF Bank Stadium in return for $35 million, officials at Notre Dame University and Michigan State University told Sports Business Daily that they would not follow suit and wanted to maintain a strictly collegiate image.
Other schools in Bay Area feel similarly. Stanford avoids corporate signage for its sports venues. Santa Clara University has none either. UC Berkeley has no plans to sell naming rights to Memorial Stadium, even as it struggles with debt after spending $321 million to upgrade the venue, which a study deemed unfit to weather earthquakes. A school spokesperson said that the Memorial Stadium name is "essential to the history and traditions of the university."
However, UC Berkeley welcomed a corporate sponsorship similar to SJSU's in 2013, a year after completing the stadium renovation. The school made a 15-year, $18 million deal to rename the playing field inside the stadium after Kabam, a video game company with three UC Berkeley alumni among its cofounders.
SJSU will debut the new name at its first home football game Sept. 10 against Portland State.
Some worry that SJSU's stadium name change will undermine the Spartan tradition.
"We take pride in where we went to school, and when you start seeing names that really do not go with the university, I think it takes away from the teams," said Judy Najero ,who graduated from SJSU in 2004 and works in San Jose. "I think you're going more toward the dollars than the education or what makes up the Spartan community, which is the alumni, the students and the staff."
Bleymaier said that the athletics department weighed these concerns but believes the sponsorship will only enhance the sports program And, as Lanning pointed out, the stadium's official title still includes "Home of the Spartans."
"We understood that change can be difficult," Bleymaier said. "But looking at the environment and the need to generate new money is not something that's new to colleges."