CRAWFORD | UK kicks off SEC naming rights game: Commonwealth Sta - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | UK kicks off SEC naming rights game: Commonwealth Stadium becomes Kroger Field

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UK athletics photo UK athletics photo
Commonwealth Stadium, now Kroger Field, after its 2015 renovation. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) Commonwealth Stadium, now Kroger Field, after its 2015 renovation. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Kentucky has sold the naming rights to its football stadium, the first naming rights deal for a major sports facility in the university’s history.

Commonwealth Stadium, completed in 1973 at a cost of $9.4 million and named, perhaps not quite imaginatively, now will bear the name Kroger Field, according to Kentucky president Eli Capilouto, who called the deal "a partnership of two iconic brands -- UK and Kroger."

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Kentucky also becomes the first school in the Southeastern Conference to sell the naming rights to its football stadium. The move breaks new ground in college football’s most tradition-rich and passionate conference, but in the high-dollar competition to move forward in the league, it won’t be surprising if some of Kentucky’s conference brethren follow suit.

Capilouto said the 12-year deal with Kroger, worth about $1.85 million annually, extends beyond athletics to other university areas. The agreement, which technically is between Kroger and JMI Sports, UK's multimedia rights partner, is subject to approval of the school's board of trustees. The naming rights deal is effective immediately.

"We envisioned an innovative agreement that would provide essential funding as we went through a period of unprecedented growth in our department," UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said of the deal.

UK’s multimedia rights agreement with JMI Sports, which was signed in 2014, granted naming rights to athletic facilities and other campus media rights like those included in this deal. The JMI rights agreement pays UK Athletics $210 million over 15 years, and included a signing bonus of $29.4 million built to help get the building of a new baseball stadium and other capital projects off the ground.

Commonwealth Stadium was expanded several times over the years, but its last renovation, a $120 million facelift in 2015, reduced its capacity to 61,000 fans while adding a new press box, club seats, a recruiting room, suites and updated concourses. The field at Commonwealth already had been named for former athletic director C.M. Newton. Given the new stadium name, and in consultation with Newton, UK has renamed its playing field the "C.M. Newton Grounds at Kroger Field."

Newton said he appreciated Barnhart reaching out to him about the change, and that he's in full support: "My family and I are thankful to President Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and everyone at UK for including us in the decision to rename the playing field," Newton said. "We are proud of the time we spent at UK and excited for years of Kentucky football to come on C.M. Newton Grounds at Kroger Field.”

UK plays basketball in Rupp Arena, owned by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and operated by the Lexington Center Corporation. There have been debates from time to time about acquiring a naming rights deal for that facility, particularly if it were to undergo more major renovations, but no serious proposal has come forward. According to current agreements, only the Lexington Center can have a naming rights deal, not Rupp Arena itself.

Across the state, Louisville has played in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium since 1998, and replaced Freedom Hall with the KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

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