Will the Cal Golden Bears Be the Google Golden Bears Some Day?

Lucrative corporate naming rights may be on the way, and they might help solve the financial woes of athletic departments
Will the official Cal logo need to add a corporate name some day?
Will the official Cal logo need to add a corporate name some day? / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Will Cal fans soon be rooting for a football team known at the Google Golden Bears?  Will the stadium in which that team plays be called Apple Stadium?  Will the conference Cal’s basketball team plays in be known as the Intel Conference?

It’s possible, and it may not be too long before it happens.

The NCAA earlier this month approved on-field corporate advertisements for the upcoming season.  So theoretically you could see the Tesla logo covering an expanse at midfield of the Memorial Stadium artificial turf when Cal faces visiting opponents.

The escalating cost of running a college athletic department will continue to rise with expensive lawsuits ahead and the knowledge that athletes will be allowed to receive direct payment for their services in the not-too-distant future.  So colleges have to look for ways to increase revenue. Corporate advertisement may provide the answer, and despite the distaste athletic departments may have for commercializing their product, they may be unable to resist the annual $3.8 million to $4.2 million a year that a top-level Power Four conferences can receive from such on-field advertisements, according to USA Today.

Don’t think for a minute it will stop there.  Renaming Memorial Stadium with a high-priced corporate naming-rights deal seems inevitable.  It’s already commonplace in pro sports – hello, Oracle Park – and bowl games – greetings, Outback Bowl -- so there’s no reason the colleges won’t soon be allowed to do it.

Then comes the possible renaming of the athletic department itself.  This presumably would meet with more resistance, but if the decision comes down to whether to change the team name or cut eight sports . . . well, the choice does not become so obvious.  It leads to the suggestion that Cal’s sports teams might be called the Google Golden Bears, or the UC Meta Bears, or the Cisco Bears of Berkeley (or good old CBB). 

The Silicon Valley possibilities are endless.

Changing the school’s sports name is extreme, and it's unclear how much say those corporations would have in the athletic deportment's decisions. But these are extreme times, especially for schools like Cal, which is giving up a lot of media-rights revenue in its first seven years in the Atlantic Coast Conference and doesn’t even know whether the ACC will exist in the near future, with Florida State and Clemson trying to get out of the conference, with others likely to follow.

But maybe the ACC can survive by using the private-equity formula and renaming its conference with a corporate name.  Ross Dellenger of Yahoo Sports reported this week that the  Big 12 conference “is exploring a naming-rights partnership that may be one of the most lucrative and unique sponsorship deals in college athletics history.” Such a deal could be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

So why not rename the ACC the Honeywell Conference? The regional and numerical tags attached to conference names now don’t make sense anyway.

The Big 12 is considering dropping the “Big” in its conference name and substituting a corporate name for the huge financial payoff.  Maybe the McDonald’s 12 Conference.

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Jake Curtis

JAKE CURTIS

Jake Curtis worked in the San Francisco Chronicle sports department for 27 years, covering virtually every sport, including numerous Final Fours, several college football national championship games, an NBA Finals, world championship boxing matches and a World Cup. He was a Cal beat writer for many of those years, and won awards for his feature stories.