University agrees to largest field naming rights deal in college sports
by Matthew Coller
Software maker Kabam bought the naming rights to the football field at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., in a record deal.
When the University of California Golden Bears football team comes out of the locker room at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., they won’t just be setting foot on a football field, they’ll be trotting onto a new-age sponsorship deal. The university announced this week that Cal’s players will now be trotting across Kabam Field.
In an agreement unique to college football, the online gaming company which was founded by three Cal alumni, will pay $18 million over the next 15 years for naming rights to the field.
There are only a handful of universities in Division-1 football that have a sponsor for their field. Most only sell rights to the entire stadium, but Cal did not want to change its venue’s historic name. Memorial Stadium, which holds more than 62,000, has plenty of nostalgia wrapped up in its name. It has been home to the Golden Bears since it opened in 1923.
Upon the agreement, the Kabam-Cal partnership becomes the the largest field naming rights deal in the history of college sports.
The company that brokered the deal, Premier Partnerships, a sports advisory firm that specializes in naming rights sales, expects to see more agreements like Cal’s coming soon.
“We believe this deal could trigger a significant uptick in the number of field naming rights deals across the country,” said Director of Business Development for Premier Jesse Ryback. “So many colleges have venues that are named after someone or are memorial venues where they don’t want to change the name. By creating these TV-visible composite logos, you’re really embedding the brand and unlocking a lot of revenue.”
Kabam’s logo will appear on each 25-yardline and at midfield. There will also be signage above the Cal team bench and additional directional signage at the stadium. The on-field logos and signage are expected to be unveiled this spring.
As part of the agreement, Kabam will provide scholarships, internships, an interactive gaming area on campus, a program to bring veterans to Cal football games, and an annual $25,000 donation to the university’s library.
“This is an important partnership for so many reasons,” Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said at a press conference to introduce the deal. “It exhibits the values of intercollegiate athletics to serve as a bridge and a connection between our alumni and and the greater community.”
Premier Partnerships spoke with about 100 different companies who fit their criteria. Ryback searched for budding technological businesses whose product fit the college age demographic.
In addition, he aimed to find a company more interested in a partnership than a name-for-cash contract.
“In this case, we asked: How can this be more than just athletics?” Ryback said. “It was a matter of how we can extend the reach across the university so the legacy is more than just a name.”
In Kabam, they met the criteria and then some. The company’s co-founder and CEO Kevin Chou earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 2002 in Business Administration at Cal.
“It’s very powerful for students at Cal to see a company where the founder is young and only 10 years removed from Cal,” Ryback said. “They can see what has worked and relate to the work. They can see that potentially 10 years from now, they could also have a company worth hundreds of millions.”
The company, which is responsible for the popular online games “Kingdoms of Camelot’’ and “The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age,” employs 650 people and has offices in San Francisco, Redwood City, Beijing, Austin, Texas, Germany and Luxembourg.
“We love the opportunity to create a unique athletic and academic partnership that honors Kabam’s roots to Cal and ties to the continuous improvement of UC Berkeley,” said Chou via a university press release.
The field naming rights deal is part of the university’s plan to pay down the debt on the stadium’s $321-million renovation that was completed in 2012.
Interviewed for this article: Jesse Ryback, (310) 656-2500; Kevin Chou, (415) 391-0817; Sandy Barbour, (661) 336-5723