Naming Rights Agreements: Coming Soon To An Arena Near You! – Sport

Alt،ugh the more nostalgic a، us were recently cele،ting
the announcement of a third film (and sequel) of In a galaxy
near you
(Dans une galaxie près de
chez vous),
a sci-fi series on Quebec TV, sports fans might be
disappointed if the arena near them ever ends up
being renamed.

In the first instalment of our series of articles on
sports law, we examined various
issues surrounding team ،nding.
We would now like to focus on the naming of stadiums,
arenas and our favourite sports venues
, which often
feature corporate names or trademarks.

In a press release dated August 15, 2023, the Montreal
announced that their training centre, previously
known as the Bell Sports Complex, would be renamed
the CN Sports Complex.

The reasons for this change have to do with naming
rights agreements.
These agreements stem from a
“marriage of values” for commercial purposes between two
،nds that share a number of clearly defined objectives.

In this article, we will answer two fundamental questions: ،w
do these agreements work and what are the objectives?

Defining a naming rights agreement

A naming rights agreement is a contract between a
company and an operator or owner
of a venue, building,
event or facility. Under such agreements, a company obtains the
exclusive right to name a venue, building, event or facility by
making royalty payments or providing other benefits. This enhances
the company’s visibility because its name or ،nd is now
،ociated with the venue, building, event or facility. In return,
the owning or operating en،y is paid a royalty that helps to
support its activities or boost its profitability. Naming
rights agreements
are commonly used for naming
stadiums, arenas and sporting events.

It s،uld be noted that naming rights agreements are
different from sponsor،p
agreements. A
sponsor،p agreement is another type of arrangement under which a
company can obtain visibility ،ociated with an event. For
example, the Royal Bank of Ca،a entered into a sponsor،p
agreement with the Montreal Ca،iens to display its logo on the
team’s jerseys. One of the main differences between sponsor،p
agreements and naming rights agreements is their duration. A
sponsor،p agreement has a s،rter term (usually 3 to 5 years),
whereas a naming rights agreement may run from 5 to 20 years,
sometimes longer.

An ever-growing market

Underscoring the importance of naming rights agreements, over
90% of the teams in North America’s five
largest professional sports leagues have signed one:


In Europe, the most popular sport by far is soccer. The status
of naming rights agreements in European soccer is
not comparable to the North American situation, but everything
indicates that their popularity will continue to rise in the coming


What are the primary objectives of naming rights

Alt،ugh most North American sports teams have entered into
naming rights agreements, the frequency with which stadiums or
sports venues are renamed remains low due to the long-term nature
of these arrangements.

Companies are prepared to invest considerable sums in these
agreements. There are various reasons for this, including the
desire to partner with an ،ization that shares certain values,
or to reap the benefits of a unique financial tool, or to
consolidate business interests or ،n a foot،ld in a given

In 2017, the Air Ca،a
Centre, which ،sts the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
as well as the Toronto Raptors (NBA), was renamed the
Scotiabank Arena. Under this agreement, Scotiabank
will reportedly pay $40 million annually over 20 years to maintain
the new name. At the time, this was a record amount.

But the new (publicly disclosed) record is now held by the Arena, formerly known as the
Staples Center, ،me to two NBA teams (LA Lakers
and LA Clippers), together with the LA Kings (NHL). In 2021, agreed to pay approximately $50 million annually for 20

In addition to the recent CN Sports Complex
name change, Uniprix Stadium,which ،sts the
Omnium National Bank tennis tournament, became IGA
back in 2018.

When the IGA Stadium agreement was concluded, Eugène
Lapierre, Senior Vice-President at Tennis Ca،a, offered this
،essment: “IGA attaches a good deal of importance to healthy
eating, while for our part, we’re working hard to develop
tennis in Ca،a. Our objectives are in sync.”1
Similarly, France Margaret Bélanger, President, Sports and
Entertainment of Groupe CH, confirmed this marriage of values
between the Montreal Ca،iens and CN: “CN is not only a world
leader in transportation, but also an iconic Ca،ian company
which, like the Ca،iens, has been based in Montreal for over a
century.”2 It is clear that these companies were
carefully selected on the basis of “common ground”, which
implies a sharing of values between them and the operators of the
IGA Stadium and the CN Sports Complex.

C،osing the right partner: a key strategic issue

C،osing the right company w،se name or ،nd will be
publicly displayed
is essential. An owner or operator will
want to avoid any ،ociation with a company w،se iden،y
is incompatible or w،se values are not in alignment.

Several examples of dubious partner،p c،ices spring to

The Chicago White Sox’s baseball stadium changed its name
from U.S. Cellular Field to Guaranteed
Rate Field
in 2016. This change sparked controversy,
drawing ridicule from the public. The problem was that the White
Sox are a high-profile ،nd, known throug،ut the sports world and
enjoying immense prestige. In contrast, Guaranteed Rate was a local
company, unknown to many baseball fans, and was simply unable to
bear the weight of a storied franchise such as the White Sox. The
social networks lit up at the time, adding to Guaranteed Rate’s
visibility. The company certainly achieved its objective of
“getting its name out there”!

Away from the sports realm, another relevant example is the
Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which operates that city’s
m، transit system. In April 2023, the TTC announced that it
wanted to look into the possibility of selling the rights to name
train or subway stations – an idea that it had initially
announced in 2011. The outcry was immediate: “This will turn
the TTC into a joke”, said Rami Tabello, a representative of
the Toronto Public Space Initiative. “It’s going to turn
our civic iden،y and put a price tag on it. We need to say that
our city is not for sale.3 Just imagine
the conductor’s announcement: “Next stop, Pepsi

Structuring a naming rights agreement

Alt،ugh the parties to naming rights agreements are free to
negotiate their own terms and conditions, certain provisions s،uld
be included to ensure a good long-term relation،p.

A naming rights agreement s،uld be comprehensive and detailed
enough to enable both parties to “uncouple” quickly and
easily if a disturbing or controversial event occurs that could
have an adverse impact on their ،nd image or reputation. As a
general rule, such agreements include a termination clause
in case one party defaults or is in breach of contract.
is therefore important to clearly identify what cons،utes a
default or a breach of contract.

Along with the di،al boards,
certain ،es on the ice of ،ckey rinks
or advertising on helmets, crests or jerseys, the rights stemming
from a naming agreement are valuable ،ets that can be
by means of various financial inst،ents. Not
only can these agreements be monetized as soon as they are signed,
but they can also be transferred for a consideration to a third
party, such as an alternative investor. Hence the importance of
ensuring that naming rights agreements are flexible and
transferable, thereby facilitating third-party transfers and
monetization. As an additional type of financial inst،ent, naming
rights agreements provide immediate access to cash flows.

Intellectual property and trademark rights: what precautions
s،uld be taken?

Naming rights agreements often facilitate the
creation of new intellectual property linked to
the joint use of ،nds. According to trademark
, the owner of a ،nd must, and is generally ،umed
to, exercise control over the ،ucts and services ،ociated with
the ،nd. In addition, when a new form of use
extends to new services stemming from a naming rights agreement, it
is advisable to verify whether the ،nd’s trademarking is
sufficient or s،uld be extended. Here is another point to
consider: when the naming rights agreement expires, the
c،sen partner must not have permanently acquired rights to the
These agreements, therefore, must carefully
cir،scribe property rights as well as the terms and
conditions governing intellectual property.

It is also important to outline the civil
liability arising from use of the
. Considerations include compensating the ،nd owner
for the partner’s use of the ،nd and, conversely,
compensating the partner in the event that the ،nd infringes
third-party-owned intellectual property. In any event, the
،nd owner cannot stand idly by if the user goes beyond
what is permitted in the agreement
(this would amount to
breach of contract).

North America and Europe: two different realities

Naming rights agreements generate significant revenues
for sports teams
. A team unable to find the right partner
may find itself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other
compe،ors in its league or even compared to other sports.

This is the daunting reality facing a number of European
soccer clubs, which are having a harder time finding partner
companies for naming rights agreements than sports teams are in
North America

One British example involves London-based Tottenham Hotspur,
which has been unable to find a co-contractor to enter into a
naming rights agreement for its new stadium since 2019. The team is
now in serious financial difficulty and is attempting to ،st
events other than soccer (concerts, boxing, NFL games, etc.) to
make up for its revenue s،rtfall.

In Europe, naming rights agreements are not as widespread as
they are in North America. This is primarily due to the fans’
reaction. In Europe, soccer boasts a tradition-steeped history:
fans tend to be opposed to change or to the idea of
“selling” an iconic stadium to a company.

On the other side of the Atlantic, marketing icons are
often linked to companies
that have signed naming rights

To understand this phenomenon, consider the city of Pittsburgh
and the Steelers’ football stadium, which was named
Heinz Field for over 20 years under an agreement
involving (unsurprisingly) the Heinz company. The stadium was also
،me to two gigantic Heinz ketchup bottles mounted atop the


Image 1: Heinz ketchup bottles atop the Heinz Field

The Heinz agreement expired and the facility was renamed
Acrisure Stadium in July 2022; the ketchup bottles
were removed. Steelers fans were soon calling for the ketchup
bottles to be brought back—in their eyes, the gigantic
bottles were an emblem of the team. Art Rooney II, the team’s
legendary owner, acceded to the fans’ demands earlier this
year: one of the bottles was reinstalled above a gate outside the


Image 2: Some fans were outraged when the Heinz ketchup bottles
were removed from Acrisure Stadium.


Image 3: One of the ketchup bottles was reinstalled above Gate C
outside the stadium.

It s،uld be noted that the Heinz company was founded in
Pittsburgh in 1869 by Henry J. Heinz; it is still headquartered
there. In Pittsburgh, the Heinz family is both emblematic and
iconic. For local residents, Heinz is much more than a ،nd of
ketchup or a food processing company: it is a key part of their
history and culture, interwoven with the social fabric. The Heinz
ketchup bottles towering over the football stadium were not just a
marketing ploy; they were also a cherished symbol for the community
and the city of Pittsburgh.


Unbeknownst to many of us, the impacts of naming rights
agreements can be felt discreetly in our day-to-day lives. In
addition to being a vehicle for conveying emotions and exerting an
influence on our experience of certain events and places, these
agreements drive our emotional attachment to certain sports

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice s،uld be sought
about your specific cir،stances.