Lucas says please don't call stadium 'The Luke'

August 18, 2008

Officials for Lucas Oil Products Inc. are imploring fans and media not to refer to the team's new stadium as The Luke, a nickname that has cropped up on sports talk radio shows and been repeated in print and on TV. The nickname seems to be gaining momentum, and that doesn't sit well with Lucas brass already playing defense against New Jersey-based Lukoil Co.

California based-Lucas Oil signed a 20-year, $121.5 million naming-rights deal for the Colts' new stadium. The 63,000-seat retractable-roof venue has been dubbed Lucas Oil Stadium. Part of the value of the deal will be eroded, said Forrest Lucas, a former Indiana trucker who founded Lucas Oil, if the stadium is widely called by another name.

"Calling the stadium The Luke doesn't sell a dime's worth of products for us," Lucas said following a recent inspection of the facility. "This will be a place we intend to show Lucas Oil to the world, so we're eager to protect the integrity of the name."

The Luke is the worst possible nickname, Lucas said, because one of his company's competitors is Russian-owned Lukoil, which is making a big push in North America.

"This is a big deal to us," Lucas said. "We'd prefer people call it Lucas Oil Stadium, but call it anything but The Luke. What people are doing by calling it that is doing one of my competitors a multimillion-dollar favor."

Though Lukoil is relatively new to America, its rivalry with Lucas Oil has already become bitter.

Lucas Oil Products filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Lukoil in June 2006 in a New York federal court. Lukoil countered by accusing Lucas Oil of the very same thing. In a settlement ironed out last summer, Lukoil agreed not to refer to its mascot called "Big Luke," or simply "Luke," in the United States. But the company itself is still often referred to as Luk or Luke.

Team effort

The Colts are doing what they can to stop their new home venue from acquiring a nickname, particularly one disdained by its name sponsor.

"Forrest Lucas has talked to us about this, and we know it's important to him," said Pete Ward, Colts senior executive vice president. "All of our team correspondence refers to the facility as Lucas Oil Stadium; every time we talk about the facility publicly or otherwise, we call it by its proper name. We are doing our best to promote it in every way as Lucas Oil Stadium. And the stadium has five of the biggest neon signs in the state--one on each side and one on the roof--proclaiming it as Lucas Oil Stadium. We're going to continue to be vigilant and do whatever we can do."

Neither Colts nor Lucas Oil officials have held formal discussions with local or national broadcasters and journalists about the facility's name. But Lucas said he's happy to explain his position to anyone who will listen.

David Morton, president of Sunrise Sports Group, a local sports marketing consultancy, understands Lucas' position, but doesn't think trumpeting the issue is a smart move.

"Lucas is not only his company's name, but his family's name, and a nickname repositions the brand of his own name and that of his company, so I can see why he'd be sensitive," Morton said. "But Mr. Lucas should be careful. He doesn't want to be perceived as the bad guy or as sour grapes."

Morton suggests Lucas focus on marketing his own company and its association with the new stadium, and less on a corporate rival.

"He has to be careful not to get people thinking about Lukoil," Morton said. "He wants people thinking about Lucas Oil, not a competitor."

There was some resistance to calling facilities by their corporate name in the 1980s and early 1990s, as broadcast networks were not keen on giving free on-air exposure to companies who were not advertisers. City officials in the 1990s had several discussions with ESPN, NBC and other NFL broadcasters to get them to refer on air to the RCA Dome by its proper name, not its original name--the Hoosier Dome.

"Most people in sports and broadcasting now understand the importance of these naming-rights dollars, and those types of problems with the national media have largely gone away," said Mark Rosentraub, former IUPUI dean and a noted sports economist and author of books on sports business issues. "But it's a different story with fans. That's much more difficult to control, and a nickname can quickly become ubiquitous."

Twisted titles

Jacobs Field in Cleveland was nicknamed The Jake, which persisted even after Progressive Corp., an insurance company, bought the naming rights earlier this year. Heinz Field in Pittsburgh has been dubbed The Mustard Palace. In Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers' former stadium was nicknamed The Big Sombrero, and the team's new facility, Raymond James Stadium, took on the name The New Sombrero.

And it's not uncommon for fans to manipulate or shorten a venue's corporate moniker. The home ballpark of the Chicago White Sox, U.S. Cellular Field, was quickly tabbed "The Cell" by fans and local sportscasters.

"The Luke" started to take root in Indiana earlier this year.

"It's a label that seems to be spreading pretty fast," Morton said.

Media references can fan the flames quickly, Rosentraub said, and exposure through the Internet can spread the nickname and entrench it in people's minds even faster than traditional media.

"Once something like this gets started," hesaid, "it's difficult to stop. But this is a strategic and critical investment in this company's effort to roll its motor oil out to a wider audience. So I'm sure Lucas will do whatever he has to do to protect his investment."

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