Wiring dollars to the Terps

Comcast: College Park campus contract to sell arena's name to cable company is no big deal.

January 13, 2000

VIEWERS must tolerate endorsements like Corporation Big Bucks' player of the game if they want to enjoy college basketball on television. Logos clutter the arena floors and sidelines. Coaches wear the emblems of companies that contract with them. Advertisers hope this March Madness of Marketing reaches their targets -- consciously or subliminally.

Commercialism is so firmly entrenched in collegiate sports it is not such a big deal that the University of Maryland, College Park has sold Philadelphia-based Comcast the naming rights to a planned $101 million basketball arena that will replace Cole Field House.

As these things go, it's a fair deal. UMCP gets $20 million and Comcast gets its name circulated whenever Maryland games are broadcast locally or nationally. Maryland's deal is second only to the University of Wisconsin's $25 million arrangement with Kohl's department store.

Marylanders are familiar with this name game. Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell paid $10 million for the rights to name the city's professional football stadium. He, in turn, sold the rights to PSINet for $105.5 million.

We might like to think collegiate sports are in a different realm, but they're not. Syracuse University teams have played in the Carrier Dome, named for the air conditioning company, for two decades. Other collegiate teams are auctioning their athletic facilities to subsidize the cost of expensive stadiums. Even high schools are in the picture. Corporations "donate" scoreboards to high schools -- so long as they can contribute their logos, too.

The planned 17,100-seat arena would replace Cole, which lacks air conditioning and doesn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The state is likely to provide $45 million toward the cost; the university must raise the rest.

The name sale is hard to swallow, but a sweetener comes when you consider that the school would otherwise look to taxpayers and students to fill a $20 million gap.

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