What’s in a Name? #JLC

So as many have probably already read in the London Free Press the naming rights of the John Labatt Centre expire in 2012.

With the naming rights of the now John Labatt Centre set to expire in 2012, local big businesses have an open door to step up and rename one of the cities more recognizable landmarks, but is it worth it?

Since opening its doors in 2002 the John Labatt Centre has been referred to by patrons as the John Labatt Centre, the JLC or even at times jokingly as “The John”. By the time the naming rights expire next year the building will have undergone a decade of branding under the John Labatt brand.

The Labatt brand was a well established brand long before the London Arena was erected. The Labatt Brewing Company Ltd. was founded in 1847 in London Ontario and though having changed ownership (now owned by Anheuser-Busch Inbev) it is still a homegrown company that people from the London area are proud of.

So with the naming rights now up for ‘auction’, I can’t help but wonder if a name change will be beneficial for anyone besides the arena owners. After baring the extremely strong Labatt brand for the last 10 years, the first ten years for the building, re-branding could be a challenge.

1) The John Labatt Centre has only ever been the John Labatt Centre. Even if the branding is changed to something else the building will be referred to as the John Labatt Centre or JLC until the buildings target demographic ages out and is replaced by the younger generation who wasn’t aware of “The John Labatt Centre”. Or it will be referred to as the new brand with some disdain, eye rolling and a chuckle because it will always really be “The John Labatt Centre”. Further Labatt’s held the naming rights for a decade. It is possible that the ownership of the arena will only sell naming rights for a decade at a time, to allow for increased income every ten years by hopefully increasing the value of the venue. So if the naming rights can only be maintained for a decade and it takes longer than a decade for the original branding to fade from the memory of the venues patrons then the second round of branding (2012-2022) will be rendered somewhat ineffective or inconsequential at least.

2) Using a local company like Labatt’s creates a local identity for the venue. If someone like TD or Libro comes in and buys the rights, all of the sudden the JLC doesn’t quite feel like ‘our own’. Yes Labatt’s is Canada’s largest brewery, but it is uniquely London. Whereas TD and Libro, while there are branches in London are not uniquely London. It has the feeling of a big city corporation coming in and buying up a piece of our home, stealing a piece of our local identity. It makes the magical venue that houses the Knights and hosts dozens upon dozens of acts throughout the year, seem overly generic and faceless. And even an individual takes over the naming rights, like local developer Shmuel Farhi I think people might view it was a greedy individual seeking power, control and even more money.

3) I can’t help but think of the Skydome, or rather “The Rogers Centre”. The home of the Toronto Blue Jays was known as the Skydome from its opening until 2005 when the name change occurred after a change in ownership transpired. Blue Jays fans from 20 years old and up still refer to the stadium as the Skydome, begrudgingly correcting themselves to call it Rogers Centre, often with an eye roll or grimace. Fans were annoyed when the big corporation of Rogers came in and changed the identity of the beloved home of the Blue Jays. Many fans I know continuously say the stadium will always been the Skydome to them. I would assume many would feel the same about the John Labatt Centre, not wanting to betray the original identity and the memories associated with it.

4) If the naming rights of this arena go up on the auction block every 10 years or so, branding is going to lose value. People are either going to stop caring about the branding all together or they are going to grow annoyed with the branding, which either way, will be of no benefit to the person or company who owns the naming rights at the time or in the future, if it is someone besides Labatt. In turn this could affect the arena itself. People will see the arena as always looking to make a buck instead of caring about the history of the venue and the people who were there for it. It will seem like the venue is disregarding the events that helped to build the brand and reputation that defines the John Labatt Centre

Now renaming could be successful, but the company or individual who buys the naming rights will have to do something to woo the patrons into believing the value of the new brand is worth their support.

Maybe a ” *new name* Summer Bash” (like the Labatt Summer Bash in 2003) would do it, maybe not. But it is for certain merely slapping the new name on the front of the building will not change the name of the John Labatt Centre as far as patrons are concerned.