Joining the team: Corporations put their names on stadiums to promote image, show community support

Over the past three decades, Chattanooga has added four new sports stadiums and is looking at expanding and building another two. Collectively, the baseball, softball, soccer and football stadiums have or are projected to cost, in total, more than $150 million in a town without a major league professional or top-tiered college team.

To generate revenue for the new arenas for minor league baseball, USL League One soccer, National Independent Soccer Association, and local college and high school teams, many of these venues have sold the naming rights for the stadiums to corporate sponsors. In exchange for such corporate sponsorship, a business gets its logo plastered over the venue, usually gets multiple media references during games and often picks up goodwill from sports fans and community leaders.

AT&T, which took over the former BellSouth Corp. in 2007, put its name on the Lookouts Stadium on Hawk Hill downtown in 2007. Formerly BellSouth Park, AT&T Field is a privately funded facility. The 6,100-seat stadium opened in April 2000. In addition to serving as the home of the Lookouts, AT&T Field hosts other community events.

"AT&T has a strong heritage of giving back to the communities we serve," David Scobey, president and CEO for AT&T Southeast, said in 2007 when AT&T took over the stadium name from BellSouth.

A decade and a half later, the nation's biggest telephone company still has its name on AT&T Stadium, which enjoys a prominent site adjacent to Highway 27 through downtown Chattanooga.

"While we can't share the terms of our agreement, I can tell you that we're proud to be a small part of the action at AT&T Field," AT&T spokeswoman Rosie Motalvo says. "Go Lookouts!"

AT&T has paid for naming rights to other major sports stadiums in San Francisco, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Lubbock, Texas to both promote its brand and image.

In the past decade, as professional soccer has come to Chattanooga, other corporations have also become sponsors for local teams. CHI Memorial Hospital gained the naming rights for the region's newest stadium, the Red Wolves soccer stadium which will eventually include 5,500 seats along Interstate 75 in East Ridge.

In 2020, CHI Memorial signed a six-year deal to secure the naming rights for the new stadium, which hosts not only the Chattanooga Red Wolves Soccer Club, but also the Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves, occasional professional men's and women's exhibitions, USL League Two Dalton Red Wolves and college national championships.

Janelle Reilly, president of CHI Memorial, said the hospital's partnership with the Red Wolves and the naming of CHI Memorial Stadium "has been very beneficial from a branding standpoint, creating top-of-mind awareness." The stadium is along the I-75 entrance into Chattanooga where more than 124,000 vehicles pass every day, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

"We are a couple of years into our partnership and are looking forward to new opportunities on the horizon," Reilly says.

The CHI Memorial president said the hospital's support is part of its overall community effort to encourage more growth in the region, noting that the Red Wolves stadium is anchoring more than $200 million of hotels, restaurants, apartments and offices planned by Bob Martino, a Utah-based developer who owns the Red Wolves.

"It has been important to us to privately fund the stadium so public funding can go toward supporting public schools and city infrastructure," Martino says. "Major partnerships like this make that possible."

The Red Wolves are also being backed by the Chattanooga-based TransCard as the official primary kit sponsor of its USL League One team. TransCard's logo is featured across the front of the home and away kits worn by Chattanooga Red Wolves SC players, garnering both fan and media exposure through USL's official broadcast streaming service, ESPN+.

TransCard President Chris Fuller said his company was eager "to share our support with our local community, our customers and those around our region who are passionate fans of the game."

"Bob Martino and his team are building a strong organization based on their admiration for Chattanooga and the sport, and we are thrilled for this partnership and what's to come," Fuller says.

Chattanooga's other professional soccer team, Chattanooga FC, also enjoys significant support from Volkswagen of America, which supports both the men's and women's CFC teams and displays its iconic logo on all of the players' jerseys.

"Just as Volkswagen is the People's Car, soccer is the people's sport; it's a natural fit for us," says Burkhard Ulrich, senior vice president of human resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga.

Ulrich said VW has been encouraged by CFC's programs to provide free player clinics for female participants, coaching clinics for female coaches, and introduction to refereeing courses for female participants.

"For Volkswagen, diversity in the workforce is a strength that we aim to continue building and fostering," he says. The collaboration is structured around three pillars: Electrifying soccer, Diversity and Inclusion, and Sustainability."

Some of Chattanooga's stadiums don't have ongoing licenses with companies for naming rights, but they do honor the chief fundraisers who helped raise money for the arenas.

The home stadium for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team and the Chattanooga FC, the professional soccer team, is named for W. Max Finley, former chairman of the Rock Tenn Corp. who was an alumnus and active supporter of the University of Tennessee system. The playing field at Finley Stadium is named for the late Gordon Lee Davenport, the former president and CEO of the Krystal Co., who served as chairman of the Stadium Corporation and helped raise more than $10 million of private funds for the $28.5 million facility, which opened in 1997. Bronze busts of both Finley and Davenport adorn the main entryway to the stadium.

The Jim Frost softball stadium at Warner Park, built to NCAA fast pitch specifications, is a 3,000-seat stadium, and amenities included are concession stands, restrooms, a glass-enclosed press box, two sky boxes, climate controlled locker rooms connected to the dugouts, batting cages and bullpens.

Frost, who died last year at 79, was the founder of Frost Cutlery and for many years a driving force within the National Knife Collectors Association (NKCA).

Adjacent to Finley Stadium, the shell of the former Ross Meehan Foundry has a corporate sponsorship from the city's biggest bank. For nearly three decades, the open-air pavilion was known as the First Tennessee Pavilion, but the iconic downtown structure took on a new name in 2020 when First Tennessee bank was renamed First Horizon. Another name change is likely in the next year or two after First Horizon is purchased by the Toronto Dominion, or TD Bank.

Jay Dale, the Chattanooga market president for First Horizon, said First Horizon pays for the naming rights to the pavilion both as a brand promotion and to support a community gathering site. The First Horizon Pavilion is a gathering arena before UTC football games and Chattanooga FC soccer games. The building hosts many regular community events, including the Chattanooga Market on most Sundays.

"In addition to the marketing exposure for First Horizon, we're proud to support a real jewel of the community," Dale says. "This pavilion helps support many local vendors, artists and small businesses in addition to the athletic events at the stadium, so our support is both marketing and community support for us."

Across Tennessee, First Horizon also has the naming rights for the home of the Nashville Sounds baseball team and pays to be the official bank of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, Dale said.


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