History of advertising: No 171: Busch Stadium

Advertisers paying big money for naming rights to sports stadiums in Britain has become so prolific that it's hard to believe the practice is more than a century old.

Today, the Etihad Stadium is home to the Premier League’s Manchester City while Surrey’s county cricketers host matches at the Kia Oval. Even lowly Witton Albion of the Evo-Stik League First Division North until recently ran out at the intoxicatingly named Bargain Booze Stadium.

In fact, the promotional opportunities of having a company’s name associated with a sporting venue were first realised in 1912, when the home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team was named Fenway Park after its owner’s property company.

But it wasn’t until 1926 that a major brand first associated itself with a stadium, when the chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, who also owned the Chicago Cubs, named his team’s home Wrigley Field.

The real game-changer came in 1953, when August Busch, the president of Anheuser-Busch, claimed it was his civic duty to "save" the struggling St Louis Cardinals. He bought the city’s Sportsman’s Park, renamed it Busch Stadium and moved the Cardinals in.

It was a shrewd move by Busch, who began his involvement with baseball just as TV was precipitating a huge marketing explosion within the sport while positioning Budweiser as the beer for US sports fans.

Busch had pushed to have the Cardinals’ new home called the Budweiser Stadium. But this proposal was rejected by Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner, who frowned upon stadiums being named after alcoholic drinks.

Busch, though, had the last laugh. By the time his company had introduced Busch Beer in 1955, baseball chiefs were happily raking in beer-sponsor profits from TV. 

Things you need to know

  • Busch Stadium closed in 2005. Anheuser-Busch, which retained the naming rights after selling the Cardinals, was able to use the same name for the team’s new stadium, which opened in April 2006.
  • Stadium naming rights are common in many countries including Australia, Japan and South Africa. However, they remain limited in France, Italy and Spain.
  • Eight of the ten biggest football stadiums in Germany have their naming rights sold to corporate sponsors.