It has been one of the most discussed things in sports since its announcement. Earlier this week the Kentucky Wildcats became the first school in the Southeastern Conference to enter the world of stadium corporate sponsorship. The university sold the Commonwealth Stadium naming rights to the Kroger company for a reported 1.85 million dollars per year over the next 12 years.
— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) May 1, 2017
The stadium, which opened September 15th 1973, underwent a 120 million dollar facelift in 2015. Now two years later another facelift is happening. Effective immediately the stadium will be known as Kroger Field.
The deal was brokered between JMI Sports the Cincinnati based grocery chain and the university. The 1.85 million dollars will go to JMI, who purchased Kentucky’s athletic rights for 210 million in 2014. That figure included a 29 million signing bonus which has gone to the construction of a new baseball field.
As a result the playing field known as C.M Newton Field at Commonwealth Stadium is now C.M. Newton Grounds. The school consulted with the family and they approved the name change.
For fans coming to the games the sign on Nicholasville Road saying “Welcome to Commonwealth Stadium” will now display “Welcome to Kroger Field.” The playing field itself will feature the Kroger symbol on both 25 yard lines opposite the Southeastern Conference logo. That part could be seen as a little overboard.
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart says discussions began three years ago when JMI took over as Kentucky’s marketing partner. By a vote of 17-2 the Kentucky board of trustees approved the motion.
While Kentucky is the first SEC school to have a corporate name on their football stadium they aren’t the first in the state. The University of Louisville plays at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and has since 1998. The pizza chain has naming rights through 2040.
However “Papa” John Schnatter recently resigned from the U of L athletic board amid disagreements with athletic director Tom Jurich. Whether his sponsorship remains going forward is something to watch.
In addition to Louisville the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers inked a deal in 2007 play their games at Houchens Industries- L.T. Smith Stadium. The grocery store chain is based out of Bowling Green, home of Western Kentucky.
While excitement runs high at the university about the new sponsorship fan reaction has been less than positive. One only needs to check Twitter to see general disapproval of the deal. Of course in general everything on Twitter meets with disdain. This even includes some of Kentucky’s players.
Nice work, somebody. pic.twitter.com/p2xYj3wDKr
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) May 1, 2017
— Stephen Johnson II (@stephen_h_j) May 1, 2017
— Courtney Love (@Court_Love10) May 1, 2017
Even former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen added his own idea to the mix. The school’s all-time passing leader runs his own T-shirt company and is never one to miss on a good marketing idea.
— ThrowboyTees (@ThrowboyTees) May 2, 2017
One person who has no problem with the new deal is Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. In an interview after the announcement Stoops said, “I am a Kroger man, we are very proud to play on Kroger Field.”
Pretty pumped to hear Mark Stoops refer to the stadium as "The Kroge" https://t.co/GOhXspr2h1
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) May 1, 2017
In the end what does all of this mean for Kentucky. Quite simply for a school that really has no football tradition it is a chance to be a trailblazer of sorts. If a corporation offers you a ton of money to use to further your programs you would be crazy not take advantage.
The name Commonwealth Stadium holds none of the same esteem as say the Rose Bowl, or “The Big House” at Michigan. Kentucky football’s all-time record is barely above .500 at Commonwealth 107-95-4. That is hardly what you would call a home field advantage.
A substantial sum of the money is going to help other sports at the school. Construction on new tennis facilities is set to begin where the old baseball stadium now stands. Many other upgrades are coming soon for other athletic teams.
Furthermore Barnhart says no changes are coming to historic Rupp Arena. “The Rupp name is iconic as far as what it means to college basketball. Also it has a special name to it and we are not going to mess with that.”
Renaming Commonwealth Stadium is one thing but offering up naming rights to Rupp Arena is another. Some traditions are better left alone and Rupp is one of them.
At the end of the day what matters most is the product on the field, not the name of the stadium. Expectations will be high when Kentucky kicks off their first game at Kroger Field on September 9th against Eastern Kentucky. Coming off their first bowl game in five years, many are picking the Cats to finish in the upper half of the SEC East. That should be the focus of the fans not the name on the field.
Are you in favor of the naming of Kroger Field or against? Send your comments to @kevinmcguffey on Twitter.