Responding to newly raised concerns about the planned renaming of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to United Airlines Memorial Coliseum, the airline informed USC Friday it is “amenable” to backing away from the $69 million naming-rights agreement.
“If USC is not in a position to honor the terms of the agreement, including in particular the name change, United would be amenable to abiding by the wishes of the community, stepping away from this partnership with USC and mutually terminating the agreement,” Janet Lamkin, United Airlines’ California president, wrote in a letter to USC Senior Vice President Todd Dickey.
USC, which plans to use the $69 million to help fund the $270 million renovation of the storied Coliseum, responded that out of respect for veterans, the university is willing to instead name the stadium “United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum,” but only if the airline supports the switch.
There was no immediate word on whether United would accept such a change.
“The lease agreement, including the naming rights, was voted on and approved by the Coliseum Commission in 2012,” according to USC. “The university acted in good faith based on the contractual lease agreement executed with the Coliseum Commission and has invested significantly in the Coliseum renovations predicated on that lease agreement.
“Through all of this, USC was guided by doing the right thing for the community and preserving and restoring the Coliseum as a memorial to veterans of World War I. USC will continue to be guided by its longstanding commitment to the community.”
Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn, who serves as president of the Coliseum Commission that oversees the stadium, suggested “United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum” earlier this week as a more appropriate name for the venue.
Hahn used an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times to propose that USC president-to-be Carol L. Folt reconsider the name “United Airlines Memorial Coliseum.”
Hahn argued that renaming the nearly century-old stadium for a corporate sponsor in exchange for $69 million “insults the memories of those the Coliseum was intended to honor.”
The stadium was originally dedicated to local men who fought in World War I and was later rededicated by Hahn’s father, Supervisor Kenny Hahn, to all Americans who served in that war.
Hahn said the Coliseum is more war memorial than sports stadium and cited other historical events — including the 1932 and 1984 summer Olympic Games and visits by Pope John Paul and Nelson Mandela — in making her case for tradition.
Some members of local veterans groups, including local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Vietnam Veterans of America, appeared before the commission Thursday to express opposition to the name “United Airlines Memorial Coliseum.”
Under the 16-year naming-rights deal, which was announced in January 2018, the name change is set to take effect in August when the stadium reopens for the kickoff of the USC Trojans and L.A. Rams football seasons.
In her Friday letter to USC, Lamkin noted that when the airline struck the deal with USC, it was careful to “continue to include `Memorial Coliseum’ in the name to honor the memory of veterans and ensure that the Coliseum remains a source of pride for future generations of Angelenos.”
“From United’s perspective, the agreed-upon new name is the key provision of our sponsorship agreement with USC, underscoring our deep commitment to the community and its cherished institutions,” Lamkin wrote. “However, some in the community, including members of the Coliseum Commission, have raised concerns over changing the name of the Coliseum, and raised doubts about USC’s ability to honor all of the obligations and commitments under our agreement, including the name change.”
USC athletic director Lynn Swann acknowledged at a January 2018 groundbreaking ceremony that some fans might not be happy with the name change, but said corporate sponsorship was critical to the upgrade.
“If we’re not changing and moving forward, then we’re stagnant and other schools will pass us up, and we won’t be relevant in terms of our facilities and what we do,” Swann said.
USC operates the Coliseum under a 98-year lease deal struck in 2013 with its city, county and state owners. The state is entitled to 5 percent of naming revenues under that agreement.
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