Update: United emailed a second statement on Feb. 6, in addition to their original statement included in the article below: "We were aware during the course of discussions with USC of IOC rules regarding venue naming rights agreements. While we would welcome the use of the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum name during the 2028 Games, the mutual value of this partnership with the USC Trojans for this 16 year agreement far outweighs the expected removal of United Airlines branding on the venue for a few weeks."
What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought?
Maybe a house? Or a car? Maybe a big, expensive vacation?
You probably did some research first, I'd assume, checking the details thoroughly so you'd know exactly what you were getting.
Now let's imagine you had millions of dollars to spend on marketing for your company. Would you read the fine print on the deal?
I ask because United Airlines just paid $69 million to put its name on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
And now some people are saying that the deal might not be everything it was once suggested.
Here's what we know. Starting next year, the iconic Los Angeles stadium will be known as "United Airlines Memorial Coliseum."
That means the brand "United Airlines" will ring out during television broadcasts for USC football games (for 16 years), and the NFL's Los Angeles Rams games (temporarily, until the Rams find their own home).
What's more, as United's official statement trumpeted--and as virtually every news article about the deal pointed out--the stadium is slated to be "home to both opening and closing ceremonies, as well as athletic events (track and field) for the 2028 Olympics."
Only one problem: The Olympics apparently doesn't allow naming rights for the stadiums they use for the games.
That means, according to the Journal, that "all United Airlines signage and other branding ... would have to come down for the three or so weeks during which the Summer Olympics will unfold in Los Angeles."
Moreover, television broadcasts of the Olympics wouldn't be allowed to refer to the stadium using the United Airlines name.
This is potentially a huge deal, right? Because without the Olympics, the stadium naming deal is basically just a college sports deal--in fact, reportedly the most expensive college sports naming deal in history.
I didn't want to presume either that the reports about the no-Olympics rule were correct--or else, that United Airlines hadn't realized it. That would seem like a pretty big deal.
So I asked United Airlines to clarify whether they'd actually be required to remove all branding from the stadium during the Olympics. Here's their answer:
"This is for an Olympics that is 10 years away so I don't want to speculate on what IOC rules will be in 2028," the spokesperson said, referring to the International Olympic Committee.
Not a denial. Also, not an insistence that United Airlines knew about the Olympics rule but thought the deal was worth it anyway. (I mean, that could be--but then why talk about the Olympics so prominently, and not mention this little caveat?)
So could United have entered into the deal without knowing this key detail?
The International Olympic Committee, also known as the Comité International Olympique, is based in Switzerland. Thus far, I've be unsuccessful in learning their view of what things might be like in 2028.
But perusing the venues that are listed for the 2018 Winter Olympics that begin shortly, and looking over the ones that were used in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio, I don't see any sponsored stadiums. (I'll update this article if I learn otherwise.)
Meantime, if you've ever had buyer's remorse after making a big purchase because you didn't read the fine print, especially if it had to do with United Airlines, you're forgiven for feeling a little schadenfreude.