Honolulu Star-Advertiser


By Ferd Lewis

January 9, 2020

What’s in a stadium name?

If it is Aloha Stadium, there is tradition, deep cultural significance and, perhaps, millions of dollars in desperately needed revenue surrounding the rising issue of whether to sell naming rights for the successor to the crumbling 45-year-old facility.

While the state prepares to invest $350 million in the building of what is currently referred to as the 98-acre New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District, one of the quieter background issues had been whether to eventually sound out prospective sponsors about a possible naming rights agreement when the project edges closer to its targeted September 2023 debut.

At least it was in the shadows until Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) offered a pointed argument for a floor amendment Monday to Senate Bill 2940. The amendment did not require but proposed that the Aloha Stadium Authority, “May seek entities to purchase the right to name the stadium and its facilities within the district.”

It was defeated on a voice vote, but the question doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon. Especially while the COVID-19 impacted debt in the state rises.

“It (selling the naming rights) is perfect because we’re down and out, we’re broke, $2.3 billion — not million — in the hole,” Ward said. “Why would you look a gift horse like this in the mouth?”

How much the state might get, for example, Matson Stadium or Southwest Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium in a couple of years after the economy recovers is open to speculation. “But you don’t know if you don’t ask,” Ward said.

Colorado State landed a $37.7 million deal over 15 years with the Canvas Credit Union in 2018. The University of Washington signed a $41 million, 10-year agreement with Alaska Airlines in 2015 and Boise State got a $12.5 million deal over 15 years with the Albertsons grocery chain in 2014.

Rep. Aaron Johanson (D, Aiea-Foster Village), who grew up in the shadow of the stadium, said, “I, myself, am pretty partial to ‘Aloha Stadium’ because that’s all I have known it as my whole life. But, I think people also want to ensure that there is a healthy discussion about how to maximize the taxpayers’ investment. Those would be good discussions for the Stadium Authority to have.”

Stadium Authority chairman Ross Yamasaki said, “I’d want to look at every opportunity that will serve the mission of the Authority and benefit the state and the community,”

The issue also came up before the current stadium opened in 1975 and it was decided that “Aloha” should stand alone as it was a unique representation of the state and its spirit.

Gradually, as the cost of upkeep of the aging facility has risen, officials have opened up to limited naming rights. In 2011 Hawaiian Airlines paid $2.5 million to have its name put on the field. But after declining crowds for University of Hawaii games and limited use of the name, the airline did not renew the deal. The Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union signed a three-year, $275,000 field-naming deal in 2016.

The new stadium is pegged to be the centerpiece of the state’s biggest attempt at a public-private partnership and, as such, Ward told legislators, it represents new and enhanced opportunities amid financially challenged times. “This is something that we should, as a responsible legislators, use to give our taxpayers, our constituents, a break. Why the hell would we not do this?”