On Monday, USC announced a new naming rights deal for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with United Airlines, signing over the name of the historic sporting venue in exchange for $69 million.
At base level, this is a simple argument. The deal is an easy way to make cash, and we all know USC loves cash.
But look at the optics. Look at what we’re going to be calling the Coliseum — this hallowed landmark, the home of two Olympic Games (and soon to be a third in 2028) from now on: the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum. Yuck.
First off, they literally replaced “Los Angeles” with “United Airlines.” That just sounds pathetic, and honestly, nobody will ever say the words, “What a great game we saw at the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum last night!” I wouldn’t say those words even if United paid me a royalty every time I uttered their company’s name.
Second, of all the airlines out there, it is United, a company best-known for always coming through with that clutch, three-hour flight delay and for dragging screaming passengers off of planes. Lord help us if they ever overbook games at the Coliseum.
In all seriousness, this decision boiled down to USC putting profits over tradition, sacrificing history to make a few bucks. Immediate reactions on social media were, as expected, not so popular. But University president C. L. Max Nikias felt proud enough to post not one, not two, but three pictures on his Instagram account from Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony of a $270 million renovation project at the Coliseum, where he also announced the naming rights deal.
“L.A. Coliseum was one of the few classy stadiums with no corporate name left,” one commenter responded. “Too bad.”
That is true. We’re used to referring to stadiums by their corporate names by now — STAPLES Center, Petco Park, Levi’s Stadium. That’s why these companies break the bank to have their names in big letters: It is an advertising tool that is almost guaranteed to gain attention.
But there is something to be said about keeping a stadium’s traditional name. Usually, these are historical sporting venues that a casual fan might know: Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Yankee Stadium in New York, Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Before the San Francisco 49ers moved to Levi’s Stadium, they played for decades at Candlestick Park, a stadium located on Candlestick Point, known for its windy, bone-chilling and terrible conditions, but also for hosting the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s that featured multiple Super Bowl runs, as well as the infamous 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s that was interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Its name endeared itself so deeply with San Francisco residents that after two highly criticized naming rights deals, residents voted for a proposition to restrict the team’s ability to sell its naming rights.
“It was a dump,” former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark once said of Candlestick Park, “but it was our dump.”
Compared to other, newer college football stadiums, the Coliseum might, too, be considered “a dump.” The seats are old and rusty, the concourse looks corroded and — speaking for a friend here — the press box needs an upgrade (read: air conditioning!). So, this $270 million makeover is necessary.
“If we’re not changing and moving forward, then we’re stagnant and other schools will pass us up and we won’t be relevant in terms of our facilities,” Athletic Director Lynn Swann said. “There’s a need for change every step of the way.”
Swann also added that United’s partnership was key to funding the renovations, which adds to the conundrum. At a school like USC, where boosters and alumni almost always stand behind tradition and legacy, is selling the name of the historic Coliseum worth it to maintain and renovate that piece of tradition?
Sadly, in this day and age, where everything must be modern, sleek and state-of-the-art, the answer is yes. Despite the fact that “Los Angeles” is literally being removed from the name, the fact that the sponsor is my least favorite airline and the fact that no one will ever call the stadium by its new official name, this deal is a necessary evil for USC to undergo.
Just remember, though, that the Coliseum should, and will, always remain just that — the Coliseum. It is forever and ever “our dump.” It belongs to us, not to an airline company.
Eric He is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Thursdays.