—Laurel Sutton, Principal at Catchword Brand Name Development
You may be aware that there is a large sports arena located in Oakland, California, wherein both the Oakland A’s and the Oakland Raiders play their respective sports. You may further be aware that this edifice is commonly known as “the Oakland Coliseum”, a practical name which tells you both where it’s located and also what kind of aspirations the original owners had. (As far as I know there have never been any gladiator fights there. Not officially, anyway.)
What you may not know is that the Coliseum has also had sponsor names. Starting in 1998, Network Associates agreed to pay $5.8 million over five years for the naming rights and the stadium became known as Network Associates Coliseum. They tried to get people to call it “the Net”, trying to emulate the familiarity of “the ‘Stick” (as Candlestick Park is often known). I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years and I never once heard anyone say “Meet me at the Net”, despite the huge sign that hung at the entrance for years encouraging people to do so.
Network Associates renewed their naming rights for another 5 years, and in mid-2004, when they were renamed McAfee, the stadium was also renamed McAfee Coliseum accordingly. This name, too, was pretty well ignored by everyone but sports announcers, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when McAfee chose not to renew their naming rights in 2008, and we could all go back to calling it the Coliseum.
But on April 27, 2011, the naming rights were purchased by online retailer Overstock.com, which apparently will result in yet another renaming to the Overstock.com Coliseum, or, perhaps later the O.co Coliseum, as Overstock.com is trying to rebrand itself to this ridiculous palindrome. How do you pronounce that? Oh-ko? Ock-o? Oh-dot-co?
In the end it probably doesn’t matter. No one in the Bay Area will adopt the new name. You won’t be hearing it on BART. Local newspapers will use the new name in first reference but never thereafter, and sports radio talk shows will studiously ignore it, except when they have to use it in advertisements.
So what is Overstock.com getting for their 1.2 million dollars a year? It seems pretty clear that they’re going for national exposure, not local. The name will show up in televised sporting events every time the camera cuts to the scoreboard or shows the outside of the stadium. The network announcers will say it before every commercial break. It will boost their SEO, since the name will show up in links via Ticketmaster, LiveNation, etc. And if the A’s or the Raiders somehow magically win their divisions, the Overstock.com name will be in the national news outlets every day.
But even with that kind of exposure, they may be getting a lot less than they bargained for. The A’s have been making noise about leaving the Coliseum since 2005, although they are nowhere near having a new home. If they do, however, it will leave the loved and hated (in equal parts) Raiders as sole occupants. The current naming rights deal lasts for 6 years, and it might take that long for the A’s to find a new place to play. In the meantime, speaking the words “Overstock.com Coliseum” will be a surefire way to out yourself as a tourist, just as surely as if you referred to the City By the Bay as “Frisco”.