Naming Rights Blues

Japan’s biggest alcoholic beverage maker, Suntory, has decided not to renew its contract with Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Five years ago, Suntory made a deal with the local authorities to lend its name to Shibuya Kokaido (Shibuya Public Hall), or, more precisely, the name of one of its most popular soft drinks, C.C. Lemon.

With 2,084 seats, Shibuya Kokaido was one of the first large concert halls in Tokyo to host foreign pop artists in the 1970s, making it one of the country’s most iconic venues. When it became C.C. Lemon Hall in 2006, a lot of locals thought it strange.

A Suntory representative told the Asahi newspaper that the “naming” was “very effective” for increasing brand recognition, but that conventional advertising channels such as television commercials and public transportation posters would be enough from now on.

Suntory paid Shibuya Ward 80 million yen ($1.04 million) per year to put its name on the concert hall, which will once again be called Shibuya Kokaido unless the ward finds another sponsor.

The high price that Shibuya was able to get for the naming rights inspired other local governments and private operators to put more effort into selling name rights in and around Tokyo. But thanks to the ongoing recession, which has put pressure on promotion budgets, few have had success.

The Kanagawa Citizens Hall in Yokohama has been trying for a year to find a sponsor at an annual price of 35 million yen ($455,000).
Neighboring Chiba Prefecture has opened most of its public sports facilities, including marinas, skating rinks and golf courses, to bidding for naming rights.

The former Chiba Marine Stadium, home field to the Pacific League professional baseball team Chiba Lotte Marines, was renamed QVC Marine Field in early 2010, after the prefecture made a deal with the prominent TV direct sales channel.

The home stadium for the JEF Chiba professional soccer team was recently renamed Fukuda Denshi Stadium after a local electronics manufacturer.