By Cyndi Pyburn

Naming rights are no easy decision. They can cost millions of dollars.

We know from our own research that naming rights increase the visibility of the sponsoring brand and create top-of-mind brand awareness among consumers. But this popular marketing strategy can grow a brand in so many ways. For example, branding a building with a company name can:

  • Increase affinity toward the sponsoring brand
  • Increase the likelihood to buy from the brand
  • Provide ‘free’ advertising
  • Permit onsite promotional advertising for the brand (often preventing the competition from making their brands available in that building)
  • Obtain ‘earned’ media with billions of impressions over time
  • Boost ‘willingness to recommend’ for the brand
  • Create an ‘emotional’ bond with fans
  • Increase market capitalization of the brand

That said, it is absolutely crucial to activate the platform. Once naming rights have been gained, companies can’t simply rest on their laurels. Rather, they need to ‘work’ what they’ve paid millions for. That buying power needs to result in a phenomenal number of strategic benefits, not just eyeballs, in order to generate meaningful ROI. Only together can naming rights and activation truly elevate a brand in the eyes of consumers.

Sportsnet just announced that The Air Canada Centre is getting a new name. Evidently, Scotiabank agreed to a 20-year deal worth approximately $800 million that will see the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors renamed Scotiabank Arena starting July 1, 2018. According to Sportsnet, this is believed to be the largest stadium sponsorship in North America and represents an immense increase on the reputed $30 million Air Canada paid for the original naming rights when the building opened in 1999.

This marketing strategy has many examples to choose from. Toronto’s famous Skydome was renamed the Rogers Centre. The tennis stadium at York University was formerly the Rexall Centre and is now the Aviva Centre. Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa used to be Scotiabank Place and prior to that Corel Centre. Likewise, the Saddledome in Calgary went through a slew of name changes from Olympic Saddledome to Canadian Airlines, Pengrowth to Scotiabank Saddledome. In Vancouver, General Motors Place became Rogers Arena. Montreal has Centre Bell, formerly Le Centre Molson.

Do fans like sponsorship shifts or are those name changes simply viewed as annoying reminders that marketing and advertising cannot be avoided and brands can buy themselves into any venue? While the above benefits hold true for original and new sponsors of multi-purpose stadiums and arenas, I think that fans (including myself) will still refer to Scotiabank Arena as the ACC, at least in the early days. In fact, I still call Skydome, well, Skydome. Rogers Centre never seemed to stick for me and Skydome was just a great name to begin with. However, that said, I do know who sponsors these stadiums. I may refer to their original names with nostalgic feelings but when it comes to searching for events tickets online, I still type in the newest branded names. Even those fans who don’t remember the new name will have to figure it out when they buy their tickets.

And, there is one often overlooked advantage of sponsors willing to invest millions of dollars in naming rights for sporting and entertainment venues. Without these large corporate sponsors, Canadians would not benefit from world-class facilities to watch their favourite athletes, listen to their favourite musicians, and watch their favourite actors. I, for one, will nod to the naming sponsor with my wallet.


Ready to learn more? Download our Sklar Wilton Plan on a Page for a template that will help you bring together all elements of the marketing plan on one page – from who to win with all the way through to measuring success. Or, learn how we used qualitative research and cultural analysis to help our client choose a product name that would be clear and relevant for consumers, and set them up for success.