As teams seek stadium deals, Camden Yards' name not for sale

Oriole Park at Camden Yards isn't as old as Boston's Fenway Park or Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, but experts say it seems to have joined their exclusive ranks as a stadium too iconic to have its naming rights sold to a corporate bidder.

The stadium, which opened in 1992, is one of a dwindling minority of Major League Baseball venues whose names aren't sponsored by a bank, insurance firm, beer company or other brand.


Including the Orioles, only 11 of the 30 major league teams play in venues that don't have naming rights deals. That number will slip to 10 when the Atlanta Braves move into SunTrust Park next season. And the Washington Nationals — who share a regional television network with the Orioles — are pursuing a naming rights deal for eight-year-old Nationals Park.

Such deals — which can produce revenue of more than $10 million a year — have become the norm in baseball and the National Football League. Baseball teams dislike leaving potential money on the table about as much as they loathe stranding runners on base.


Orioles officials haven't ruled out selling naming rights and declined to address the matter publicly last week, but there appears to be strong inclination from the top of the organization to preserve the existing name.

John Angelos, the club's executive vice president and son of owner Peter Angelos, tweeted to fans last year: "No, there has never been nor is there any plan today to sell naming rights to Oriole Park at Camden Yards."

Several club officials indicated that the sentiment remains the same, saying the organization has calculated that erasing or tinkering with the name of Camden Yards — a stadium celebrated for its red-brick homeyness and retro charm — isn't right for fans, the community or the brand.

The club's NFL neighbor, the Ravens, announced in 2014 that the football team had agreed to a 10-year, $60 million extension of its partnership with M&T Bank, highlighted by naming rights to what was originally known as Ravens Stadium and was renamed PSINet Stadium in 1999.

Analysts say baseball teams, particularly those in older stadiums such as 104-year-old Fenway Park and Chicago's 102-year-old Wrigley Field, are more reluctant to jettison time-tested names.

A naming rights agreement — like a sacrifice fly — involves a trade-off. Revenue is gained, but tradition is lost.

"More than any other sport, research has shown that baseball fans have an inherent interest in nostalgia and tradition," said Jonathan Jensen, a sports marketing consultant and professor of sport management at Merrimack College. "For true baseball fans, it's one of the attractions of the game. In addition to some of the MLB ballparks being older, this makes it a riskier proposition for a corporation to sign on to a naming rights deal with a MLB ballpark. You're just never going to see a name attached to Fenway, Wrigley, or Dodger Stadium."

The nature of naming rights agreements is evolving to incorporate more value for corporate partners, said Noah Garden, executive vice president of business for Major League Baseball.


Future deals would be more likely to include sponsor promotions tapping into digital media.

"We're looking to change the conversation from, 'Hey, put your name on a stadium,'" Garden said. "You have to extend the reach."

And MLB is becoming more involved. As the Nationals meet with prospective naming rights sponsors, "we're a partner in the pitch" along with the consulting firm Korn Ferry, Garden said.

"This is the first time we've played as active a role in something like this," he said. "I think it's a logical progression over time."

With the Nationals' sponsorship revenues on the rise — and the team hosting the 2018 All-Star Game — "it's pretty simple for us to say this is a good time to open up and focus on naming rights and partnerships," said Valerie Camillo, chief revenue and marketing officer for the Nationals.

"Many of the most powerful people in the world are in our fan base," she said. "We consider this a very unique marketing opportunity."


The Baltimore stadium's name represented a compromise in the 1990s between the team — which favored "Oriole Park" — and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who wanted it called "Camden Yards" after the former rail terminal at the site operated by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, whose brick warehouse was incorporated into the baseball park.

The value of stadiums' names tends to increase over time, often boosting the worth of the franchise even if naming rights aren't sold, according to analysts.

The Dodgers and Red Sox — with their vintage stadiums — "have been uber-successful in raising corporate sponsorship dollars without selling the name because there is so much value in the given name," said Janet Marie Smith, the Dodgers' senior vice president of planning and development, who has overseen stadium improvements in Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles.

Authority to sell naming rights doesn't necessarily rest with the club owner.

"The right to sell naming rights sometimes belongs to the club, sometimes belongs to the municipality," said Marc Bluestein, president and CEO of Aquarius Sports and Entertainment, a Gaithersburg-based marketing firm. "Sometimes the lease determines who has the right to sell naming rights and what the revenue share would be."

The Orioles won naming rights in 2001. A panel of arbitrators ordered the state to pay for stadium improvements to Camden Yards — and gave the Orioles naming rights — based on a clause in the team's lease that guarantees treatment comparable to that given the Ravens.


The Orioles also have "presenting rights," allowing the club to retain the "Oriole Park at Camden Yards" moniker but sell a "presented by" tag at the end with a corporate name. It's uncertain if the team would ever go that route.

The team's lease with its landlord, the Maryland Stadium Authority, expires in 2021 and provides the Orioles an option to extend for five years.

The stadium, with the brick B&O Warehouse as the right field backdrop, is consistently rated among the best in baseball in fan and media surveys. Most of the 29 other teams have opened new ballparks since Camden Yards' debut, when it was the forerunner of a new generation of baseball-only stadiums in downtown areas.

The team and the stadium authority are exploring capital improvements to the stadium. Such negotiations could occur well before the lease ends. There is no timetable for upgrades, and none are imminent.

"It's the best ballpark in America,' said Jerry Yetter, an Orioles season-ticket holder from Columbia, before a recent game.

Asked about the name, Yetter replied: "I love it the way it is."


Another season-ticket holder, John Roberts of Cockeysville, said he knows the team has the right to sell the name. But he hopes it doesn't.

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"You refer to Camden Yards and everybody knows what you're talking about," he said.

It can take time for fans to warm to stadium changes.

Some fans "revolted" when Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, became U.S. Cellular Field in 2003, Jensen said.

The additional revenue from the partnership helped fund stadium renovations. But Chicago and its baseball fans had a long history with the "Comiskey" name.

"In contrast, I don't think anyone revolted when New Orleans Arena [where the Pelicans play basketball] was renamed Smoothie King Center or when the Bradley Center in Milwaukee [home of the NBA's Bucks] took on a corporate name [the BMO Harris Bradley Center]," Jensen said. "Most NFL or NBA fans could care less what their arena or stadium is called."