Originally created 08/05/98

Colleges cash in on corporate donations



NEW YORK -- Goodbye, University Activity Center. Hello, Wells Fargo Arena.

Basketball coach Hec Edmundson is making room for Seafirst Bank. The Ohio State basketball team will shoot hoops in Value City Arena.

Colleges all over the country are rushing to cash in on corporate donations, discarding the tradition of naming sports venues for sports heroes.

Athletic departments now peddle the names of their arenas, locker rooms and soccer fields for the right price.

"As a purist, I'd love to think this is not going to be the wave of the future, but I think this is. In this day and age, we're all fighting for funding," said Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood, president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

He said athletic programs are under increasing pressure to be financially independent without raising ticket prices, and they are turning to corporations for help.

Arizona State just persuaded Wells Fargo Bank to donate $5 million in exchange for renaming its basketball and volleyball venue Wells Fargo Arena.

Athletic department spokesman Doug Tammaro said the football locker room is available for $1 million. The gymnastics locker room goes for $100,000, and there's more.

"The arena was considered the crown jewel," he said.

The University of Washington plans to re-dub its basketball home because Seafirst Bank promised $5.1 million for renovations.

Instead of Hec Edmundson Pavilion -- named for a coach who spent 27 years leading the Huskies -- the renovated arena will be called Seafirst Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Jeff Bechthold, an athletic department spokesman, said while some fans are unhappy with the change, he thinks most are receptive because the corporation has Northwest roots.

At Ohio State, Value City Arena is the school's new basketball facility. However, university officials distinguish it as the name of the seating bowl as opposed to the entire building, called the Jerome Schottenstein Center.

Ohio State agreed to "Value City Arena" after the Schottenstein family, which operates the discount department store chain, donated $12.5 million for the $105 million structure.

The name, announced several years ago, kept talk radio lines abuzz, giving rivals new material with which to poke fun at the school.

Paul Krebs, an Ohio State associate athletic director, defends the name. He said it was granted to honor the Schottenstein family's gift.

Such gifts buy corporations the publicity associated with a sports arena without the big league prices, said Rick Burton, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

For example, Wells Fargo's $5 million got the company's name on the arena for the life of the building, a fraction of the $50 million Bank One is spending to keep its name on the home of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks.

Marilyn Taylor, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the donation was in response to a request for help on arena renovations.

"The fact that it's named Wells Fargo was just part of it. But we sure like it," she added.

Taylor said the company has donated large sums to the university before but concedes the arena name brings more visibility. Since Wells Fargo hopes to target university students as customers, a campus presence doesn't hurt, she said.

Burton of the marketing center said corporate attachment to college arenas may also help companies turn alumni into customers. College fans, he added, tend to be more loyal than their major league counterparts, giving corporate donors longer to win over customers.

Besides, companies like to associate themselves with prestigious institutions, creating visibility and community goodwill, Burton said.

Livengood of the collegiate athletic directors is aware of those benefits.

"You can fold in a bunch of feel-goods. It's not just a straight, I'm giving money type thing," Livengood said. "We play on that, too."