The Strange World of Stadium Sponsor Deals in College Sports

Fast Food Wars at One University

While driving home from work recently, I heard about sponsorship money Papa John’s and Pepsi were putting into the University of Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion project.  This initially caught me off guard because I thought Papa John’s restaurant and delivery business featured Coke products.  It turns out that Papa John’s has switched its cola allegiance from Coke to Pepsi.

In the early 1990s, Papa John’s Pizza became the naming sponsor for the construction of a football (of the US variety of football) stadium for the University of Louisville.  Prior to that point, the University of Louisville played college football games at AAA baseball stadium that is more suited to baseball and concerts than football.  By 1997, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium opened for business.  Since adding a football stadium the University of Louisville has won Orange and Sugar Bowls as well as conference titles in multiple conferences.

YUM! vs. Papa?

One would think Papa John’s would have an exclusive hold on fast food, or at least an exclusive hold on pizza sponsorship, associated with the University of Louisville.  One would be wrong.

YUM! Brands owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut (Say it aint so, Papa!), and Taco Bell.   YUM! Brands built a practice facility for the University of Louisville’s basketball programs.  Later, YUM! Brands became the naming sponsor for the construction of the KFC YUM! Center whose tenant of top priority is the University of Louisville men’s basketball team.

Therefore, the University of Louisville’s Athletic Department simultaneously supports the consumption of Papa John’s pizza and Pizza Hut pizza?  Should loyalty to Papa John’s have been enough for the athletic department to seek alternative sponsors?  In cash-strapped Kentucky, a state with few large corporations, does it make sense to be sponsored by Papa John’s and YUM! Brands even if they happen to overlap?  After all, Papa John’s and YUM! Brands both use Pepsi products (YUM! has a lifetime deal with Pepsi as its predecessor Tricon was a spinoff of PepsiCo).  Can’t they both sponsor the same college sports program?

I mean …

The Big Question

What do Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pepsi have to do with elite athletics?

PS – Other Strange Sponsorships of College Stadiums

Value City – Ohio State’s basketball arena (discount furniture and hoops)

Cintas – Xavier University’s basketball arena (restroom cleaning services and welcome mats are part of Cintas’ services)

Save Mart – Fresno State’s basketball arena

Taco Bell Arena – Boise State University’s basketball arena (YUM! strikes again)

Dunkin’ Donuts Arena – Providence College’s basketball arena

Hard Rock Stadium – The University of Miami’s (FL) football stadium

Colonial Life – University of South Carolina’s basketball arena

***  For full disclosure, I am a Louisville native, and I need to lose weight.  Blaming my weight on U of L would be silly though as I typically prefer the University of Kentucky’s sports teams.  The University of Kentucky’s football field is sponsored by Kroger, a grocery company based in Cincinnati, and their basketball dorm is sponsored by coal (yes coal).

Maybe I should play more tennis (as well as other sports) instead of watching so many sporting events.



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