First published on February 24, 2010.
Should a law school be tendering seven figures of money to a minor league baseball team for stadium naming rights? That is certainly a novel question.
I tackled the whole concept of branding, memory and stadium names in the context of the Mets’ Citi Field deal a few years ago–but a bank is one thing. Heck, these guys know how to make record profits just by threatening to go out of business! So who am I to say?
But a law school? That’s something I know a little about!
And… with all due respect… should the law school that does that be Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan? Well, perhaps if it would be any school it would be Cooley, which has always marched to the sound of a different drummer.
A very, very different drummer. I once wrote an article, or perhaps just a short roundup-type item, about Cooley when I was contributing editor for Student Lawyer magazine, but I can’t get my hands on the cuneiform tablets just now. I do remember that it was the school that actually did things “the old fashioned way”–they actually admitted two or three times the number of students who were really going to make it through law school, and they actually kicked out people who couldn’t cut it. So, yes, they have always been very funky, original and daring over there.
And in that context, now let’s see the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and the stadium story:
According to the NLJ, the law school will pay just shy of $1.5 million to the Lansing Lugnuts (a single-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays) in return for the naming rights for 11 years. What used to be called Oldsmobile Park is now, just like that, Cooley Law School Stadium.
Much of the coverage was, well, critical of the decision in a way that didn’t necessarily seem unfair. To summarize the skeptics’ main question: What’s a law school not exactly at Harvard’s level doing throwing money at a baseball stadium in the middle of a severe economic downturn?
For a little help, we chatted today with Don LeDuc, the dean of the law school to ask him what about the deal, and to give him a chance to answer his critics.
Hey Don. So tell us about the deal.
The agreement we have with the Lugnuts has two elements, a marketing element and also an amenities element. Along with the name recognition, you also get some amenities at the park. We’ll be doing a sort of extended version of what we used to do at Comerica Park, where the Tigers play, in which we matched up students with alumni working in Detroit and all went to a ballgame. We’ll be doing that with the Lugnuts too. We’ll also do some community outreach at the stadium, too, in which we’ll take kids from Lansing to a game.
Okay. And you think the attention is going to increase visibility for the school?
We do. We’re a national school — more than 75 percent of our students come from out of state, and we’ve worked hard to attract more attention, both nationally and in-state.
We’ve got a really advanced presence on the Web, and we sponsor a booth at the ABA every year, and continue to have a pretty large marketing budget. We were the first school that I know of to buy a billboard here in Michigan, and now it seems like just about every school in the state has a billboard.
Our feeling is that the naming rights will be much like the billboard. The sign is visible from all four directions for anyone approaching the stadium. You also get the benefit of getting on street signs in town. We also get an advertisement inside the stadium and get on the team’s Web site. There really are a lot of ancillary benefits.
Okay, well, I thought I knew something about this subject, but it’s pretty clear I don’t: “We were the first school that I know of to buy a billboard here in Michigan, and now it seems like just about every school in the state has a billboard.” I get the Cooley part, but I guess at the end of the day I’ve lived a privileged existence and the billboard piece eludes me. The minor league baseball part, not so much, actually.
But let’s face it: You probably never wrote a magazine article about Thomas M. Cooley Law School. You probably had never heard of it at all in fact.
And now you have.
Right: Branding! Marketing! Name recognition! Juice!
For a law school… that’s worth $1.5 million?
Who am I to say?