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Gopher stadium name? Don’t bank on it

Gold banners with maroon lettering dot the fences around the construction site on the University of Minnesota campus.
The signs declare: “The Future Home of TCF Bank Stadium.”
Not so fast.


TCF Bank Stadium logo

Gold banners with maroon lettering dot the fences around the construction site on the University of Minnesota campus.

The signs declare: “The Future Home of TCF Bank Stadium.”

Not so fast.

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Locally-owned TCF Bank might not even exist when the Gophers football team takes to the field of the $288 million edifice on Sept. 12, 2009. Various reports from the banking media speculate that TCF could be owned by a foreign holding company by then.

What’s the University of Minnesota, which is banking on $21 million from TCF, to do?

“We negotiated in great detail about that,” University general counsel Mark Rotenberg said of any ownership and brand change. “I was always aware of the possibility that in a dynamic business like banking the name could change.”

How’s a down-and-out Gophers football program to market a new home if its name changes even before the first kickoff?

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi asked, expressing little concern about the situation. “It is a 25-year-deal, you know.”

But reports suggest something is more imminent than that. The Bank of Montreal, known as BMO, is considering acquiring TCF Financial, the Twin Cities-based corporation that owns TCF Banks. BMO could merge TCF with its Harris banks in Chicago, the reports suggest.

Would you believe BMO Stadium? Harris Stadium? BMO TCF Stadium? Big Bad Canadian Bacon Bank Stadium?

(Any suggestions? Send them to me at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.)

“I know for a fact it won’t be the Saudi American Bank Stadium” said Rotenberg, who spends a lot of time in Israel.

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“Not Badger Bank Stadium,” said Maturi. (There is a Badger Bank in Wisconsin.)

According to the 59-page document that Rotenberg negotiated with TCF on March 24, 2005, if and when TCF seeks to change the stadium’s name, the ‘U’ must approve it. But, any proposal can’t include “a reference to another region, city or state or . . . the name or nickname of, or a name confusingly similar to, another Division I football team or university or professional sports team.”

If there’s a dispute over the new name, an extensive resolution process is in place prior to mediation or arbitration.

A TCF spokesman didn’t return a call Tuesday.

When TCF Bank, then led by former Republican Party chairman Bill Cooper, first put its name on the stadium, DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis was indignantly critical of the ‘U.’ He said then, and repeated to me Tuesday, that corporate sponsorship of the campus football stadium “cheapens” college sports. (I will refrain from making a snide remark here.)

Pogemiller added yesterday that, if, indeed, the stadium “name starts rotating, it tells you a little bit about the idea of giving away naming rights in the first place. It’s just not in the best interests of the university to be into corporate naming in the long run.”

He speaks with clean hands. The Senate was poised in 2006 to fund a Gophers stadium with an increased sales tax on sports souvenirs and no naming rights. In fact, no private money at all would have been needed. The stadium would have been named Veterans Memorial Stadium. But others, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty, balked at the new tax. Instead, the state agreed to help the ‘U’ finance the place with $137 million. The rest has to come from student fees and corporate and private contributions.

Tuesday, Maturi and Dairy Queen announced a $2.5 million deal, with the fast-food/soft ice cream franchisor getting the stadium club named after it and gaining ad signs and a suite.

Maturi said he’s up to $73.5 million in private funding, with $12.5 million to go. DQ, TCF and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux ($10 million) have signed deals with naming components. Best Buy ($3 million), Target ($2 million) and General Mills ($1 million) have pitched in cash, but with no naming-rights attached.

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Frankly, this market is spoiled. That Target Center has gone unchanged for 17 years is a miracle for a sports venue. Remember Houston had Enron Field, for gosh sakes.

But banks and sports facilities have a special way of zigzagging. When the new Boston Garden arena was built in 1995, it was first to be named Shawmut Center. Shawmut Bank merged with Fleet Bank before the arena even opened. The Shawmut logo was on business cards, stationery, signs and arena seats. Fleet had to change them all. Ten years later, the name changed again to TD Banknorth Garden.

Such is life amid mergers, acquisitions and — beware — the corporatization of Gopher sports.