In an age where sponsor patches are on every NBA uniform and the Nike swoosh has even hit MLB jerseys, maybe it was only a matter of time before companies started pushing for the actual names of major American sports teams.
Michigan State entered such territory on Thursday by announcing a massive expansion in its endorsement deal with Rocket Mortgage. Yes, rather than call them the Michigan State Spartans, the team will now receive the following treatment in East Lansing's Breslin Center:
Under the new five-year deal, Detroit-based Rocket Mortgage will be the presenting sponsor of the famed men's basketball team which will now be known throughout the Breslin Center as, "MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage."
A day later, after a barrage of online mockery, Michigan State released another statement clarifying it wasn't really undergoing a name change, just a presenting sponsorship, which it says is nothing new.
This all might be a matter of semantics, as the Spartans did literally say they will be known as the "MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage." But that's apparently not the name, just a suffix that will be attached the team everywhere in sight on its home turf. And it's all part of an effort that Michigan State says is intended to make the company "synonymous with Spartan athletics."
In case you're wondering why Michigan State is willing to go through all this, the Detroit Free Press reports the athletic department is projected to lose $75 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rocket Mortgage's relationship with the program comes via the co-founder of its parent company. Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a graduate of Michigan State and a significant donor to the school.
It's worth noting that private businesses have made their way into the names of sports teams before. It's not too rare a practice in soccer, most notably employed by Red Bull to promote its energy drink through the teams it owns (e.g. New York Red Bulls, FC Red Bull Salzburg). Japanese and Korean baseball teams also often feature business in their names (Rakuten Golden Eagles, Kia Tigers).
In all of those cases, however, the business in question actually owns the team rather than giving them millions of dollars to slap their name onto a scoreboard and promotions. In that respect, the MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage would be something akin to a little league team getting some help from a local business.
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