What's in a name? For the University of Louisville, $41.3 million over 20 years.

Jan 31, 2023 at 2:01 pm
L&N Stadium means big money for UofL.
L&N Stadium means big money for UofL.
L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium is more than a mouthful and less than pure poetry, but the rebranding of Cardinal Stadium will help UofL athletics pay its bills and should enable it to move past the unceremonious end of the Papa John's Stadium era.
With the final payment of its $9.5 million settlement with John Schnatter scheduled for July, UofL stands to net far more than it paid "Papa John" after former university president Neeli Bendapudi ordered Schnatter's company name removed from the Floyd Street football edifice in 2018.
L&N's sponsorship contract runs through 2042, two years beyond the expiration of the rights Schnatter eventually surrendered through negotiations. Even after subtracting Schnatter's settlement costs, adjusting for inflation and writing off the retainer paid to Cleveland's Superlative Group for its unsuccessful efforts to land a naming rights buyer, the L&N deal appears much more lucrative than the one it replaces and compares favorably to both the University of Kentucky's Kroger Field deal ($22 million over 12 years) and Yum Brands' 11-year, $16.3 million renewal of its naming rights for the KFC Yum Center.
Given the disparity in event dates between the arena and the stadium -- UofL played just six home football games last season -- L&N would appear to be paying extravagantly for additional exposure, prominent signage, a stadium suite and 46 season tickets. Yet in light of its previous naming rights deal for UofL's volleyball arena and its contributions to the new Denny Crum Hall, L&N may be looking beyond P&L.
"I think if you say, 'Are you going to get your money out of this deal?' Almost certainly not," UofL athletic director Josh Heird said. "I think there has to be a philanthropic component to it."
Which is not to say L&N's motives are entirely altruistic. Though CEO Chris Brown issued a prepared statement expressing pride in having the company's name on the stadium "as a visible sign of our commitment to the Louisville community and the University," corporate executives don't normally advance by placing platitudes ahead of profits. Nor is it likely coincidental that credit unions have become one of the leading investors in naming rights nationwide.
According to Credit Union Times — yes, your intrepid correspondent went spelunking in a rabbit hole — at least 13 credit unions bought naming rights in 2015 alone, including the 20-year, $120 deal that christened the home of the NBA Sacramento Kings as Golden 1 Arena.
Though calculating the return on investment of these deals can be as challenging as counting the angels atop the proverbial pin, credit unions clearly value the opportunity to engage and forge long-term relationships with college-age consumers. The sports marketing firm Bonham/Wills Associates cites Michael Ferreer, a former marketing executive for the CFE Federal Credit Union, attributing more than $1.5 million in deposits, $1.6 million in loans and an annual retention rate of more than 87% to a naming rights partnership with the University of Central Florida.
Michael Dudas, UofL's associate athletic director for development, said the university had explored naming rights possibilities with "hundreds" of companies during the 4 1/2 years since Papa John's name was removed from the stadium in response to a racial slur Schnatter uttered during a media training exercise. While Heird said he found no fault with the efforts of The Superlative Group to secure a sponsor, he ultimately recognized UofL's relationships with local companies were more fruitful than a net spread nationally.
"This is one of those stories that sometimes what you're looking for is right under your nose," he said. "We had conversations with numerous companies locally, regionally and nationally before realizing L&N could be interested in this opportunity. Fortunately for us, when the conversation was had, they didn't say no."