There are few more iconic venues in college sports than the Syracuse Carrier Dome. The architecture has become synonymous with success. That’s what happens when your school’s basketball program has spent most of the past two decades racking up wins in the NCAA tournament and sending top prospects to the NBA.
But those days are now in the past — and not just because the team has not shone as brightly the last couple years. (There’s a reason that their last Final Four run was such a surprise.) The Syracuse Carrier Dome is no more. It has been replaced by the Syracuse Dome.
Okay, “replaced” is too strong a word. It’s the same arena, but the school has decided to omit the word “Carrier” from its promotional materials and media guides. What makes this story notable and a bit strange is that Syracuse officials are playing it off as if it is purely coincidental that the name of the company that has sponsored the stadium for nearly 40 years has suddenly been ripped out of the dictionary.
What is the University saying?
When pressed on the topic, Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack has said that there is “no rhyme or reason” for why Carrier’s name has been avoided to such an extent, nor was there any intent to send a message to Carrier. According to sports law and marketing experts, those statements don’t make any sense at all.
“No, no, no. Look, you just don’t. … Clearly they are getting their message across,” said Daniel Etna, a partner and co-chair of the sports law department at Herrick Feinstein law firm. “It was a concerted effort. There was a total purge. It’s insulting to think that they’d say, ‘Oh, we just wanted to save a little space.'”
Carrier and Syracuse have a deal deeper than most business deals
It’s a stark change in direction for the relationship between Carrier and Syracuse. The air conditioning company went so far as to contribute nearly $3 million to cover the costs of the building’s construction in exchange for a naming rights deal on the stadium that allegedly goes in perpetuity. Clearly, the relationship has soured badly since then.
So what is Syracuse’s final goal with this strategy? It’s tough to answer that without knowing what the current terms of the contract between the school and Carrier are. All we can say is the obvious: Syracuse thinks the current deal is not in their favor and isn’t concerned about how Carrier might react to their tactics.
There’s a considerable amount of money at stake here. You still won’t find many naming rights agreements in college sports. Among the schools in the power five conferences, only 10 football and 12 basketball programs play in arenas that are both owned by the school and have naming rights agreements.
What happens now?
When Carrier and Syracuse made their current deal, they were criticized for introducing an at-the-time unseen level of consumerism into amateur athletics. But the sentiment has shifted drastically since that era, and money eventually talks.
Schools are now openly embracing their role in a billion-dollar industry where everyone involved in the two major sports (except for the players) is getting paid exponentially more than they were in the late ’70s.
Windy Dees, a professor of sports administration at the University of Miami, would not be surprised if Carrier agreed to a settlement in order to avoid the termination of the partnership.
“(Syracuse is being) a little passive-aggressive,” she said. “I think they’re hoping Carrier will say, ‘We haven’t been paying for this relationship for decades and we’ve probably been getting tens of millions of dollars of value on this very nice investment. Now, if we’re not getting exposure anymore, maybe we let Syracuse move on.'”
An official name change with a new sponsor would be a drastic maneuver. When you think of Syracuse, you think of the Carrier Dome. But we’ve seen colleges make drastic changes in the name of business before. Many teams have moved to different conferences over the years in order to raise their status and receive more cash as a result. There’s no reason that can’t happen here. At the end of the day, it is just a name.