Mark Story

Anybody else having trouble making themselves say ‘Kroger Field?’

When the University of Kentucky announced May 1st that it was renaming Commonwealth Stadium as Kroger Field as a result of a multimillion-dollar naming rights deal, it fell on my column day.

Yet I was so not-exercised about the name change, it was not even the subject I wrote about that day.

Intellectually, I have no objection to corporate naming rights for college sports venues.

I am not offended by Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, the KFC Yum Center, the Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, the BB&T Arena nor the CFSB Center — to name five examples that existed in Kentucky college sports before Kroger Field.

Heck, as a longtime follower of NASCAR, I enjoy quirky — The Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 — branding through sports.

So, initially, I was surprised at how riled up some UK fans have seemed by the prospect of the Wildcats football home since 1973 having a different name.

Well, now, maybe I am starting to understand.

Last week, I began work on a game-by-game predictions column for the UK football season that will run in the annual Herald-Leader college football preview (which will be in newspaper boxes Aug. 27).

To my surprise, every time I needed to type that a game was “at Kroger Field” instead of “at Commonwealth Stadium” I had a strongly negative visceral reaction.

I did not want to write “at Kroger Field.”

Now, I’m trying to figure out why I felt that way.

Some of it may have been wistfulness. Commonwealth Stadium was where I saw my first UK game ever as an 11-year-old on Oct. 11, 1975. (It was a bizarre 15-9 come-from-ahead loss by Kentucky to Auburn that, in retrospect, was pretty good preparation for a life’s worth of the “UK football experience.”)

By my count, I have now seen 157 Kentucky Wildcats football games in what was Commonwealth Stadium.

There may also have been a delayed appreciation on my part for “Commonwealth Stadium.” What an unusually dignified moniker for a major sports venue that name was.

For the commonwealth of Kentucky’s flagship university, “Commonwealth Stadium” was pretty much the perfect choice for reinforcing the idea that UK represents the entire state.

Of course, the university is being richly compensated for giving up that dignified, unifying name.

The seeds of the new name go back to 2014 when Kentucky signed a 15-year, $210 million multimedia rights deal with sports marketing firm JMI Sports that included a $29.4 million signing bonus.

The $1.85 million annually Kroger will pay over the next 12 years to have its name on the University of Kentucky’s football stadium will go directly to JMI Sports. The company also has the contractual OK to sell naming rights to some other UK sports venues — that are not Rupp Arena.

Though it would have been the path of least resistance, Kroger was smart not to allow “Commonwealth Stadium” to stay in the new title. Had they allowed it to remain in any form, most people would have simply continued to use the old name.

As it is, it will still be interesting to see what percentage of Kentucky fans adapt to using “Kroger Field” and what percentage of stalwarts insist on using the traditional name.

Earlier in the summer, I heard an in-state radio sports talk show host say he would continue to use “Commonwealth Stadium” because, he joked, “Kroger is not paying me any money.”

For the most part, I am going to make the change.

In historical contexts, I reserve the right to refer to “the venue formerly known as Commonwealth Stadium.”

However, I’ve always believed the job of a journalist is to cover the world as it is.

So starting with Sunday’s UK Football Media Day and when I cover games in the University of Kentucky’s football stadium this fall, I will use “at Kroger Field” as the location identifier in my columns.

Presumably, with time, those words will become easier to type.