A Little Ditty on Naming Rights for the New Detroit Red Wings Arena

Olympia Entertainment admitted that it selected a buyer for the Detroit Red Wings' new arena in The District Detroit 50-block area renovation project. Who is it? Who knows! Chris Ilitch, owner Mike Ilitch's son and president and C.E.O. of Ilitch Holdings, disclosed that the formal announcement could come within the next month or so. In the meantime, it may be good to know how naming rights operate so when the announcement is made, we can discuss the deal in an educated fashion and form an opinion on whether it was a smart decision overall.

Question 1: What are naming rights?

One party purchases the right to name a facility, event, etc. for a designated term. Naming rights are acquired in a traditional financial transaction. For example, Comerica purchased the naming rights to the venue housing the Detroit Tigers for $66 million for a 30 year term. Naming rights deals tend to be lucrative, expensive, and lengthy because they are a long-term partnership between the property owner and the sponsor naming rights holder.

Question 2: How are these rights attached to the new arena different from the rights attached to the current Red Wings venue, the Joe Louis Arena?

The Joe Louis Arena remains one of the few venues in the NHL without a corporate name attached to it likely because the city owns the Red Wings' current home. The City of Detroit decided to name the arena itself after the heavyweight boxing champion with roots from Detroit. Here, a corporation is buying the rights, which makes seeing a corporate name much more likely. Naming rights are a cash cow and selling to the highest bidder can come in handy paying off debt accrued during construction.

Question 3: What could realistically result from whoever purchases the naming rights here?

The cat is out of the bag about two trademark applications that Olympia Entertainment acquired - "The Baddest Bowl" and "The Baddest Bowl in Hockey". Being that they sound a bit comical, I believe they must have some sort of connection to where the entity wants to take the arena's reputation and connect it somehow to the arena's name. That being said, Olympia has leaned toward awarding the rights to local businesses in the past, and I do not see any reason they would part from those ways with the centerpiece of The District Detroit project. Whoever is purchasing the naming rights can call the venue whatever it wants. The trend in sports has been to tag on the entity's name to the venue to act as advertising whenever the venue is shown, announced, or discussed. Could the purchaser do something more creative than tag on its name like Comerica Park did for the Detroit Tigers? (At least Comerica is a bank headquartered in Michigan.)

"There was incredible interest (in the naming rights)," Chris Ilitch said. "We were shocked." Last year, Olympia announced that Meijer and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System were its first two major sponsors. Sponsorship and purchasing naming rights are two distinct actions, though. Here are some potential names I could (or just would like to) see and a bit on how they are feasible. Naturally, some roll off the tongue a little easier than others:

  • Little Caesars Arena - Olympia could sell the rights to Little Caesars itself, who then could follow the corporate trend.
  • Pizza!Pizza! Arena - This idea based on the popular Little Caesars slogan is my dad's favorite. He is an interesting man. In the same manner as described above, Little Caesars could buy the rights from Olympia and use it as more advertising. Hey, this would be better than "Hot and Ready! Arena", or would it?
  • Rocket Bowl/Arena - Quicken Loans is owned by Dan Gilbert like half of the buildings in Detroit. Quicken, as the naming rights purchaser, and its new Rocket Mortgage campaign could be the corporate name to make it "rocking," as Olympia personnel have described the future arena. "This is going to be the loudest, most rocking arena in the NHL."
  • Motown Bowl - Olympia could honor Detroit by selecting a naming rights' purchaser who has the centerpiece featuring something "rocking" from Detroit's roots. As of now, no one owns "Motown Bowl" in the US trademark database. Motown Record Corporation originally filed the "Motown" trademark with respect to Detroit music roots, but the last listed owner is UMG Recordings. Could the buyer hold the trademark or, alternatively, file its own trademark for "Motown Bowl" in a different goods and services market with no conflict?
  • Motor City Bowl - Until 2009, this was the former name for what was the Little Caesars Bowl through 2013 in the college football postseason. The Motor City Bowl was jointly sponsored by "The Big 3" (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) at first, but then Little Caesars took on the title sponsor role. As of now, no one owns "Motor City Bowl" as a live trademark, though a couple are dead (i.e., they have been cancelled). What does that mean? Any naming rights purchaser could receive trademark protection for this name. For similar reasons as the potential name above, this would be a bomb name for The District Detroit anchor.
  • Hockeytown Arena/Bowl - Self-explanatory. You can read one of my earlier blog posts to get a feel for why and how this is feasible.
  • Stryker Arena - Stryker Corporation is a massive medical technologies firm based in Kalamazoo. Stryker is also my younger sister's fiance's employer, and it reminds me of the unrelated and often under-appreciated Christian hair metal 1980s band Stryper. The entity can definitely afford to purchase naming rights, Stryker sounds like a killer name that could double as advertising if it wanted to use the rights in such a way, and the sale would honor a Michigan corporation.
  • Olympia Arena/Bowl - Resurrect the old! Olympia Stadium was iconic of old school Detroit and most well known for hosting the Red Wings. One writer claims it "played a key role in turning the city into an entertainment destination that rivaled any in the world." No one has filed a trademark application for "Olympia Arena" or "Olympia Bowl." Could the naming rights purchaser echo Detroit's roaring entertainment boom in the 1920s?

What other names or purchasers, generally, could you (or would you like to) see for The District Detroit arena?