A Brief History of Stadium Naming Rights

Getty Images
Getty Images

Purist fans decry corporate stadium naming-rights deals as another step in the crass commercialization of sports. Owners see the deals in a different light; a well-negotiated package can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for a team. Sixty years ago, no one would have seen this debate coming. At the time, stadiums and arenas were mostly named after people or their geographic location, and now it's a bit unusual to see a stadium going by such a nondescript moniker. (Just look at the case last week when McAfee Coliseum in Oakland reverted back to its old name of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum; officials quickly advertised that the stadium's name was back up for corporate bids.)

So how did our stadiums become billboards capable of seating thousands of people? Here's a bit of history and a few choice anecdotes on the expensive, gaffe-filled world of stadium naming deals.

This Bud's To Blame

If you thought Anheuser-Busch's only advertising breakthroughs were Clydesdales and talking frogs, think again. In 1953, the brewery wanted to buy the naming rights for Sportsman's Park, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, and rename the park "Budweiser Stadium." National League President Ford C. Frick wasn't so hot on naming a stadium after booze, but he allowed Augustus Busch to stick his family's surname on the park. The Cardinals opened the 1954 season in Busch Stadium. Anheuser-Busch quickly rolled out "Busch Bavarian Beer" to take advantage of this advertising. This Busch Stadium closed in 1966, but the Cardinals' two subsequent homes have kept the name. Busch Bavarian Beer morphed into what's now Busch and Busch Light, so thank Ford C. Frick and Stan Musial the next time you play beer pong with those suds.

The Astros Learned a Valuable Lesson

When a team sells its naming rights to a corporation, even the mascots are crossing their fingers that nothing goes terribly and embarrassingly wrong during the life of the deal. Just ask the Houston Astros. The team thought it had pretty much taken care of naming its beautiful new stadium when it signed a 30-year, $100 million deal with a local energy company in 1999. The same company's CEO and chairman threw out the ballpark's first-ever ceremonial first pitch when the stadium opened in April 2000. As you may remember, Enron was the sponsor, and its disgraced leader Ken Lay tossed out that pitch. The Astros actually bought the naming rights back from Enron for $2.1 million after the energy giant's scandal and fall, and quickly sold them to Minute Maid for a rumored $100 million-plus over 28 years.

But they weren't alone. The Astros weren't the only team to suffer such a debacle. The Tennessee Titans couldn't have liked playing in Adelphia Coliseum after the cable company went bankrupt due to massive internal corruption. The Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins thought they were getting a great deal when they sold the naming rights to Joe Robbie Stadium to Pro Player, a company you might remember for making sports-themed outerwear in the mid-90's that was very similar to Starter's but nowhere near as cool (at least not at my middle school). Pro Player was part of Fruit of the Loom, which liquidated the division as part of a 1999 bankruptcy episode. Unfortunately for Miami's teams, the stadium-naming deal was for a full decade, and the name Pro Player Stadium stuck until 2005.

It's Not Just Corporate Names That Can Embarrass You

The University of Missouri learned this one the hard way. When Mizzou opened its new basketball arena in 2004, it bore the name "Paige Sports Arena." The titular Paige was Elizabeth Paige Laurie, the daughter of Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Laurie and her husband Bill. The couple had donated $25 million to help build the arena. This name seemed like an odd but endearing gesture from ultra-rich parents, but it was a bit puzzling, particularly since Paige went to college at USC, not Missouri.

It turned out, however, that this wasn't the first time one of the Lauries had opened their wallet in a major way on a college campus. Later that year Paige's freshman-year roommate at USC revealed that Paige had paid her $20,000 to write Paige's papers and do other coursework at USC. The Laurie parents promptly returned the arena's naming rights to the university following this scandal.

Mizzou wasn't alone in this sort of embarrassment, though. Villanova's basketball arena, the Pavilion, was originally du Pont Pavilion in honor of John Eleuthere du Pont, a du Pont heir and philanthropist. This name sounded great when the arena opened in 1986, particularly since du Pont had helped fund the construction. It took a decidedly sinister turn in 1996, when du Pont, a paranoid schizophrenic, murdered Olympic wrestling gold medalist David Schultz. Following his conviction, the venue's name changed to just "the Pavilion."

Not All Companies Want Naming Rights

When the St. Louis Rams moved to town in 1995, they played the first half of their home slate in Busch Stadium while waiting for their new dome to open. The team then moved into the Trans World Dome, named after Trans World Airlines. Unfortunately TWA could lose money as quickly as the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams offense could score touchdowns, and in 2001 American Airlines bought TWA, which was bankrupt. American Airlines didn't want the naming rights to the stadium, though, so the dome picked up the generic name "Dome at America's Center" for a season before brokerage Edward Jones bought the rights in early 2002. Apparently American Airlines wasn't opposed to all naming-rights deals though; it now has its name emblazoned on two different NBA arenas, the homes of the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat.

It Can Be a Huge Windfall

When the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium opens next season, it will probably be one of the biggest sports stories of the year. The $1.3 billion venue will feature 80,000 fans, the world's largest high-definition television display, and Tony Romo's infectious charms. What it doesn't yet have, though, is a name. Someone will eventually shell out for the naming rights, though, and they won't come cheap. It's rumored that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants upwards of $1 billion for a 30-year naming-rights package. While Jones may not pull that sort of coin for his football cathedral, he's not going to take pocket change for it, either; even more conservative analysts estimate the stadium's name could fetch a 30-year deal for between $10-18 million a year.

If the Cowboys' new digs get a deal at the upper end of that range, the contract shatter the current record for stadium naming. Citigroup is forking over $400 million over 20 years to sponsor the Mets' new home after Shea Stadium closes this season (Citi Field). Jay-Z and his Nets will enjoy an equivalent deal when they move into their new home in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

See also...

5 College Bowls With Peculiar Corporate Sponsors
*
How Sports Owners Made Their Money
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An Unofficial Guide to Life as a Ref
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All-Star Voter Fraud
*
Quiz: Mr. Burns' Softball All-Stars
*
Quiz: Where Are They Now? College Superstars
*
The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.