By Terry Burton
John Wiley & Sons, 2008
Wow, what an interesting book! It has all the makings of a Hollywood movie: famous people, big corporations, legendary universities, money, and philanthropy. Naming Rights is an introductory book about getting your, or your corporation’s, name on a bench, building, campus, golf event, stadium, or a chair (as in endowed chair) in exchange for a fee from a few thousand dollars up to several hundred million dollars. “We are witnessing an enormous transfer of wealth from one generation to the next” at a time when tax dollars do not spread as far as they once did to support non-profit organizations such as schools, libraries, and hospitals.
The author wants you to think of his book as a portable manager’s toolbox on naming rights. He did not, however, delve into the psychology of altruistic giving which could be an entire book by itself. As an introductory text, I have to concede that Naming Rights does seem to cover all of the salient points from the “seller” side. Naming rights in exchange for legacy gifts, event sponsorship, or corporate partnerships provide funds to non-profit companies for new libraries, medical schools, and equipment, as well as allow for scholarships. Funds to for-profit companies (like the Houston Astros) go towards new stadiums or team enhancement (i.e. better players). Furthermore, the flow of funds through a community has a multiplier effect of increasing economic development. There is an interesting section on stewardship (the management of existing donors) to ensure wise use of gifts and to nurture further gifting.
Burton discusses escalating property costs, naming traditions, Internet effects, gifting and some of the strings attached, and he includes a manager’s toolbox. The book also discusses naming rights in perpetuity and contrasts them with limited length-of-term naming rights. The cost of naming rights in perpetuity follow the laws of supply and demand, according to the author. For example, how many schools of business and management are there left to name at Pepperdine University? Zero. And every time another school gets named, there are fewer left available to name. Burton also addresses the ramifications of organizations’ opting to dissolve naming rights agreements in the event of unfavorable publicity. (Recall that the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park was named Enron Field until 2002.)
At first, I was put off with the large font (about 14-point). Did Burton not have enough text to meet his publisher’s minimum page-count requirement, even with 21 pages of appendices? However, I found that this was a small price to pay for an entertaining book and it does make for a quick read. The book does appear to be U.S.-centric but the concepts seem to be applicable elsewhere.
You can read about naming rights by running a search on the Internet but you will not find the breadth of information that is provided in this easy-to-read book. I would recommend this book to students who are studying non-profit corporations or philanthropy, to those interested in the field of naming rights, and to anyone who has eclectic reading tastes.