Our Rec Centres’ Names are For Sale

City hopes to take in millions by selling the naming rights

Welcome to the (sponsor name to come) Recreation Centre at Terwillegar.

We’ve seen it with professional sports arenas and stadiums. We’ve seen it at rec centres in other cities. And now it’s coming to City-owned facilities in Edmonton.

We are joining the trend of selling our place names for corporate dollars.

This week, the City’s Community and Public Services Committee greenlighted a plan to sell the naming rights to the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre. The length of the term, how much the City will get and the identity of the potential title sponsor are all still confidential. What we do know is that the potential sponsor “is a local business that promotes a healthy lifestyle.”

The committee pledged to make as many of the details public as it can, likely in the autumn, when the naming sponsor is revealed.

“This facility belongs to Edmontonians, and I think as much information as we can share with them as possible is important,” said Coun. Anne Stevenson.

When it comes to the exact dollar figure of the deal, we can expect that to stay private, as that information could compromise other naming rights deals the city wants to make in the future.

And, make no mistake, there are plans for more deals in the future.

Let’s go back to 2020. Council approved a plan to sell naming rights to five facilities; the City’s baseball stadium, plus rec centres at the Meadows, Terwillegar and Clareview. The yet-to-be-completed Lewis Farms rec centre’s name was also included in that list. At the time, it was estimated that the City could realize $4-5 million in potential revenues within a decade.

In 2021, the baseball park became Re/Max Field, a deal that lasts until 2026, with an option to extend till 2031.

Now, the Terwillegar Rec Centre deal is nearing completion.

The City is able to sell naming rights, but it can only do so following guidelines that have been set in stone. These include: “City facilities must be linked only with external organizations that are compatible with, complementary to, and reflective of the City’s values and mandates” and “The City’s profile and responsibility as owner/operator of the facility must be ensured through the agreement with the external organization or corporation.”

As well, the City’s policy states that, just because your business is sponsoring a rec centre or facility, it doesn’t mean you’ll get any sort of preferential treatment when bidding on other City contracts.

Administration told the councillors on the committee that there is also interest out there in securing the naming rights to the Coronation Park Sports and Recreation Centre, which is scheduled to be operational in 2026.

And, of course, the biggest elephant in the room — Commonwealth Stadium.

Over the last couple of decades, corporate names on stadiums and arenas have become commonplace. In fact, if we’re guilty of anything, it’s not keeping up with how fast the names change when the contracts come up. Is it still named for that brewery, or is that a phone company, now.

In fact, there are media style guides out there that recommend that we try to avoid using the corporate names as much as we can. Not only do most of them come off as pretty awful, it’s not the business of media to do other people’s advertising for them. In fact, asking media to repeat a sponsored arena or stadium name is like asking a restaurant owner to not only make a meal for you, but to cover your bill. Almost 20 years ago, this writer was working for Sun Media, when the chain’s refusal to call the short-lived ChampCar race the “West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix of Edmonton” and, in year two, the “West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by the Brick” created some real friction between the editorial department and the sponsors of said event. Edmonton Grand Prix did just fine, thank you.

Now, that’s an extreme example — and the rec centre represents a much smaller pie than a major sporting event with an international audience. But, to be fair, we’d have some serious editorial discussions before Urban Affairs decided whether or not to use corporate names of City facilities.

So, while corporate names are a necessary evil, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have to use it. How many of you, in months and years to come, are still going to say “Terwillegar Rec Centre?” Yeah, most of us.