Here's what no one wants to admit about the continuing clusterfuck over the naming of the Denver Broncos' stadium: The deal would have been done by now if the squad was still a perennial Super Bowl contender with Peyton Manning at quarterback. But it's not. The Broncos sucked two years ago and sucked harder last year, and plenty of experts (and doubters) expect the suckage to continue for the foreseeable future. And what company wants its brand to be Suck?
Of course, the Broncos aren't going to acknowledge that challenge. The team's recent release announcing the adoption by the Metropolitan Football Stadium District board of "Broncos Stadium at Mile High" as a temporary moniker for the edifice exudes bland cheerfulness and blind optimism, with an undercurrent of business-oriented resolve rippling just beneath the surface.
Take this statement from Broncos chief commercial officer Mac Freeman: "With the season fast approaching, we’re pleased that the MFSD has approved the temporary name of 'Broncos Stadium at Mile High.' While fans will notice some new signage going up around the stadium reflecting this change, we remain completely focused on securing a long-term naming rights partner."
Freeman adds: "We’ve had many productive conversations and are confident we’ll identify the right partner, which is critical for ongoing improvements to our stadium. In this interim period, we’ll continue to provide all the necessary resources to ensure our stadium remains a great place for fans and one of the top facilities in all of sports."
Allow us to translate that for you.
1. The "Broncos Stadium at Mile High" handle is a way of saying that rechristening the facility as Mile High Stadium again, as most fans would prefer, is about as likely as Kim Kardashian renouncing publicity. Indeed, the phrasing is intentionally structured so that the word "Broncos" can be easily removed and a sponsor's name inserted. Basically, the team's appellation is the equivalent of a blank space — which is both insulting and irritating as hell, by the way.
2. DB management is the opposite of happy that they've had to go the temporary-name route, for reasons outlined to us last September by Darrin Duber-Smith, marketing professor and senior lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "They don't want people to get used to having no [sponsor] name on the stadium," he said. "And people shouldn't want that, either, because the ticket prices would go up. Broncos ticket prices aren't that high compared to a lot of the league, and the venue naming-rights partner softens the blow for consumers."
3. It's been more than two years — at least since previous sponsor Sports Authority declared bankruptcy in March 2016 — since the Broncos' brain trust began searching for a new naming partner, and they've gotten nowhere for multiple reasons laid out by Duber-Smith earlier this year.
"The first problem is that they have an old stadium, and it's easier to get a naming-rights sponsor for a new stadium than an existing, broke-down palace," he pointed out. "They only got about $4 million a year for the USC coliseum, and the University of New Mexico only got $1 million a year [from a company called Dreamstyle Remodeling] for two venues — their arena and their football stadium. That's like giving it away for free."
Moreover, Duber-Smith continues, "There's the lease on the Broncos' stadium. It only has thirteen years left, and there may not be a brand that will want to sign for thirteen years. Most don't want to sign for less than fifteen, because it takes forever to make these deals optimal. That's why most of them are being written for twenty years."
Other factors: The last two Broncos stadium sponsors, Invesco and Sports Authority, both dropped out before their contract was complete, and the team understandably wants to find a legacy corporation capable of standing the test of time to make sure such an embarrassment doesn't happen again. And while the Broncos' revelation last month of construction plans for an entertainment district adjacent to the stadium seemingly adds allure to any deal, it probably also boosted costs. If outfits didn't want to pony up $10 million or more to put their logo on the stadium, they're likely even less enthusiastic about possibly paying even more because of the pile's proximity to a major new retail project.
But beyond that, there's the franchise itself, which has lost lots of luster since Manning (sort of) led the Men of Orange to victory in Super Bowl 50. Supposed personnel genius John Elway bungled the QB succession scheme to such a degree that the starter for much of the past two seasons was Trevor Siemian, a guy from Northwestern (I say that as a proud degree holder from that institution) who was made of glass (a stiff breeze was capable of putting him on the injury list).
To make the situation worse, the supposed quarterback of the future, Paxton Lynch, turned out to be the biggest first-round draft bust in Broncos history, and new coach Vance Joseph has a past scandal in his closet and an uninspiring leadership style that led Twitter to explode with calls for his firing midway through his initial season at the helm.
These combined challenges caused the Broncos to miss the playoffs for the past two years, with last season's 5-11 mark among the most putrid in decades.
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Among other tings, that dismal performance means that the Broncos won't be on national television nearly as often as they once were — a definite negative for potential sponsors. And prognosticators aren't expecting much improvement in the 2018-2019 season.
We're actually more optimistic. There's no guarantee that new quarterback Case Keenum will be as good in Denver as he was last year in Minnesota, but he's a marked improvement over Siemian and Lynch (how could he not be?), and rookie sensation Bradley Chubb should give Von Miller, the team's one remaining star, and the rest of the defense a chance to reassert their dominance.
If they do, Freeman and his fellow executives may have a decent shot at finally getting some company to put its name on that big joint at 1701 Bryant Street. And if they don't? Get used to it being called Broncos Stadium at Mile High for a long, long time.
That's the price of sucking.