Hey London, This Bud’s for You

By Jason Menard

What’s in a name? When it comes to fans and their sports arenas, quite a bit. But unless fans are willing to dig a little deeper into their own pockets, perhaps they should take solace that the marquee outside has little impact on the product inside.

And that’s something that the citizens of London, Ontario need to keep in mind, with our curious case of preferring one brand over another.

The naming rights for the phenomenally successful John Labatt Centre are up for renewal, and the current title holders are interested in a 10-year agreement. Only instead of the existing name, they want to focus on their power brand – Budweiser – renaming the facility the Budweiser Gardens.

When it comes to sports, I’m a traditionalist. And a realist. Ideally, I’d love to see pristine sheets of ice free from advertising; I’d love my outfield walls to be covered in ivy, not branding; and I’d love for every little break in the action to not be sponsored by something or someone.

Realistically, I know that someone has to pay the bills. If marketers feel they’re getting the most bang for their buck lending their name to puck drops, first pitches, and venues, then more power to them.

All I care about is the game on the field of play – and how much it costs me to watch it.

Sure, I’d love to go back to the days when stadiums were named after iconic people from the sport’s past. Or generic terms like The Forum in Montreal. But – and, full disclaimer, I’m a corporate communications guy by day – I also understand the value of branding and promotion.

Branding is a fact of life. Every college football bowl is sponsored by someone – even the venerable Rose and Orange Bowls have title sponsorship attached to them. The principal tenants of the soon-to-be-formerly named JLC recently competed for the Memorial Cup – the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Then there are facilities like the Jobing.com Arena or theUniversityofPhoenix Stadium(what is it withArizonaand their love of Web companies?). Our Canadian soccer pitches are given over to brands like BMO and Saputo. So why is Bud any different?

Budweiser Gardens is no worse or better than the Molson Centre, the Air Canada Centre, or Busch Stadium. (And be thankful that at least our local brewery doesn’t promote Schlitz). In fact, I’d like to think that the “Gardens” aspect is a nod to our venerable London Gardens– the initial home of the Knights.

There have also been some utterances about how Budweiser is an American beer. A) Who cares? And B) that so-called American beer represents 40 per cent of all the beer produced in our London facility. That American beer is paying for a whole lot of Canadian jobs.

And that American beer is helping to keep the costs down on your ticket.

Hockey is a gate-driven sport. And who funds that gate? You. The person walking through the doors and buying a ticket. Any brand sponsorship or advertising venture that helps to defray the cost is only good for you.

Yes, advertising can be offensive, but if it bothers you that much don’t go. We live in a wonderful free market and if enough people stop attending, then facilities will look at their practices. What people don’t seem to understand is that businesses aren’t in the business of upsetting their clientele. They’re in it to make money and part of that is providing a positive experience to their customers.

Think beer is too expensive? Then stop buying it. Think the hot dogs are overpriced? Then eat before or after the game. And if you think it’s wrong to call a venue the Budweiser Gardens, then don’t attend the games – nothing’s forcing you to attend and if the strength of your convictions is such, then you’re welcome to voice your displeasure with your wallet.

On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the facility and appreciate what it’s doing for the City of London, then this is a great way for you to show your support. Patronize the venue’s sponsors and let them know why. After all, businesses are in this game to garner customers and they’d love to know that they’re getting a return on their investment.

Simply put London, this Bud’s going to be for you – now it’s up to you to choose whether you like it or not. The idea of stadiums without branding attached is an increasingly antiquated one – and like any good antique, it’s going to cost you more to enjoy it.

1 thought on “Hey London, This Bud’s for You

  1. Rodney

    Jason, good article. I appreciate your take on this issue. I thought I would leave a “re-bud-al” I just posted on facebook :>)

    For me it’s not about “which beer”.

    The big deal here is the name of a huge London landmark and tourist venue. John Labatt was a successful business person – someone “who made it” and became a household name in our community and country. I guess although his product was beer, the name “John Labatt” before “Centre” meant much more.

    Now maybe we’ve been a bit spoiled to have community pride wrapped up in the name of this place. If it had of been “The Blue Light Centre” from the beginning maybe I’d been over this issue.

    But then again, would it have been a good choice then? As Ian Gillespie pointed out in the London Free Press today, there are people with issues with alcohol. There are also community problems associated. So why allow our community-paid building – our big local gathering place – to be wrapped up so blatantly with a beer product? Would we take a higher bid of 10 million from a cigarette company to name our centre?

    Again, I am for naming rights. I strongly feel the name should evoke community pride, geographic spirit and be a positive or at least “all ages” message. “Budweiser” is none of these.

    The job of naming these buildings I realize is challenging and a big deal to get right with so many opinions involved. Sadly, it doesn’t seem this effort was put forth either now or back 10 years ago when agreements were written.

    I am a “marketing guy” but this time the “marketing guys” got it wrong.


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