The Seattle Climate Pledge Arena Represents a Giant Leap Forward in Eco-Conscious Public Space Design and a First in US Stadium Naming Rights History
Rendering, Image from “Amazon secures naming rights to future home of Seattle’s new NHL franchise, and calls it Climate Pledge Arena,” McLennan Design Website
Living Deep’s own Jason McLennan has been instrumental in the development of Seattle’s upcoming Climate Pledge Arena. The arena will be the new home of the NHL Seattle Kraken team and the WNBA team the Seattle Storm. McLennan Design was brought on as a lead sustainability consultant to help adapt the stadium to become greener in both design and operation. The Washington State stadium was once called the KeyArena, but was renamed following Amazon’s purchase of the naming rights. When asked about the name change by Nathan Pilling in a June 2020 article for the Kitsap Sun, McLennan responded personally. McLennan said one goal is “‘to be able to take my family to games...and feel good about what we did to lower our footprint.’” Follow below to learn more about McLennan’s involvement in the project and how the Seattle Climate Pledge Arena will make history.
A Brief History of US Stadium Naming Rights
"Only a few decades ago, stadium naming rights were a largely untapped market." - Hayden Bird, "Was Fenway Park the First Stadium Named For Advertising Purposes?" BostInno
According to Hayden Bird in an article for BostInno, Fenway Park began the convention of stadium naming rights in the United States. Bird writes that “only a few decades ago, stadium naming rights were a largely untapped market." Truly, "only in the last 30 years has it become widespread.” The first instance of “corporations using landmark sporting venue names as prime time advertising” might have happened in 1912. It was in this year that the naming of Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts occurred. As Bird explains, before 1912, parks and stadiums were often named after landmarks. They were also named “in memoriam” of public figures or after those who had donated money for construction. Either way, naming rights contracts were rare at the time. Fenway Park was named as such because in 1912, “the Boston Red Sox were still partly owned by the same man who owned Fenway Realty Company." By this time, Taylor -- the owner -- was “in the process of relinquishing his control of the team to James McAleer." However, Taylor recognized the importance of having his company’s name on the stadium.
The convention of securing naming rights through bidding and/or contract did not become popular -- or particularly lucrative -- until the 1950s, however. Ethan Trex outlines this in a 2008 article for Mental Floss. Trex explains that in 1953, Anheuser-Busch sought to purchase the naming rights for “Sportsman's Park, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals and rename the park ‘Budweiser Stadium.’” Despite some opposition, the Busch family name was attached to the park and the “Cardinals opened the 1954 season in Busch Stadium.” The company capitalized on their new opportunity for advertising by launching “Busch Bavarian Beer” the same year. This beer later morphed into the popular Busch and Busch Light beers.
Concerns Over Eponymous Stadium Naming
"There's a well-known phenomenon that bad things happen to companies that put their name on a stadium." - Gus Lubin and Simone Foxman, "THE ENRON FIELD CURSE: Why You Should Avoid Companies That Put Their Name On A Stadium," Business Insider
There was very little controversy involved in the naming of Busch Stadium -- which closed in the 1960s. However, there has been quite a bit of warranted concern surrounding the awarding of naming rights in other cases. If the naming rights to a stadium are sold to a company that later experiences a severe loss or terrible scandal, that scandal is tied to the team and sometimes to the town. As such, certain teams have resisted the sale of their stadiums’ naming rights to controversial or potentially controversial companies.
The Enron Scandal
Gus Lubin and Simone Foxman outline the risks to reputation in their article “THE ENRON FIELD CURSE: Why You Should Avoid Companies That Put Their Name On A Stadium” for Business Insider. The most notorious example of naming rights gone wrong is that of the deal between Enron and the Houston Astros’ home field. Foxman and Lubin write that “in 2000, Enron bought the rights to Enron Field in a $100-million, 30-year deal.” At the time, CEO and chairman of Enron Ken Lay threw out the first pitch upon the stadium’s opening. Unfortunately for the Astros and for Enron, as many might remember, the company plunged into scandal in 2001.
The FBI brief on Enron notes that Enron's collapse "precipitated what would become the most complex white-collar crime investigation in the FBI’s history.” The FBI brief explains that over several years, “top officials at the Houston-based company cheated investors." These officials "enriched themselves through complex accounting gimmicks like overvaluing assets to boost cash flow and earnings statements.” At the time, these antics “made the company even more appealing to investors.” However, Enron later declared bankruptcy in December of 2001, leading investors to lose millions. It was this bankruptcy declaration that prompted “the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate Enron.” As Lubin and Foxman write in their Business Insider article, just two short years after the naming of Enron Stadium, “the defunct company [had to] sell the contract back to the Houston Astros." They sold the naming rights to the Astros for a measly "$2.1 million.” Enron Stadium is still home of the Houston Astros, but is now called “Minute Maid Park.” Scandals like that experienced by Enron concern some when naming rights are considered, leading sellers to more carefully vet the awardees of naming rights.
How the KeyArena Became the Seattle Climate Pledge Arena
"'Instead of naming it after Amazon, we’re calling it Climate Pledge Arena as a regular reminder of the importance of fighting climate change.'" - Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, quoted by Annie Palmer in her article "Amazon wins naming rights to new Seattle stadium and will call it the Climate Pledge Arena" for CNBC
CNN’s Leah Asmelash writes in her article “Seattle's KeyArena is being renamed Climate Pledge Arena” that the new name was chosen by Jeff Bezos. Asmelash writes that the stadium will be renamed the “Climate Pledge Arena” as a nod to the many “new green initiatives [it will feature] in an effort to be more climate friendly.” Quoting Jeff Bezos, Asmelash writes that “the name is meant to be ‘a regular reminder of the urgent need for climate action.’" The name refers to an initiative founded by Amazon and Bezos last year. According to Amazon’s “Sustainability” page, The Climate Pledge is “a commitment to be net zero carbon across [their] business by 2040." This means a timeline "10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.” A number of companies outside Amazon have agreed to join the Pledge in recent months. These have amounted to thirty-one signatories at last count, including Best Buy, Jet Blue, Microsoft, McKinstry and Verizon among many others.
Annie Palmer writes further of Amazon’s plans for the Climate Pledge Arena in her article “Amazon wins naming rights to new Seattle stadium” for CNBC. Palmer writes that “the 18,100-seat arena will build on the Climate Pledge’s focus on sustainability and carbon neutrality." This focus will make the stadium "the first net zero carbon certified arena in the world.” The stadium will “generate zero waste from operations and events and will be powered with 100% renewable electricity.” Furthermore, the stadium “will also use reclaimed rainwater in the ice system to ‘create the greenest ice in the NHL.’” Palmer notes that Bezos’ multinational tech giant “has faced mounting pressure from employees to address its environmental impact.” The Arena’s groundbreaking turn towards sustainability and involvement of career professionals in its design -- e.g. Jason F. McLennan -- will likely abate these concerns.
Jason F. McLennan’s Involvement in the Seattle Climate Pledge Arena
"'[Jason McLennan] is on that shortlist of international architectural presences who have the wherewithal to help you think about campus master planning and individual building elements and all connecting it to the global climate crisis that we have right now.'" - Rob Johnson, Climate Pledge Arena’s VP for Sustainability and Transportation, quoted by Nathan Pilling in "Bainbridge's Jason McLennan leading sustainability plans” for the Kitsap Sun, Image from Living Deep
As industry insiders will attest, involving McLennan Design and Jason F. McLennan himself in designing the Arena's sustainability elements is a natural choice. In his article “Bainbridge's Jason McLennan leading sustainability plans” for the Kitsap Sun -- referenced above -- Nathan Pilling explains McLennan’s suitability to the project. Quoting Rob Johnson -- the Arena’s VP for Sustainability and Transportation -- Pilling writes that “‘if you’re in the Fortune 500 space and you’re looking to do something creative, innovative and sustainable, Jason is the person you talk to.’” Johnson continues, explaining that McLennan is “on that shortlist of international architectural presences who have the wherewithal to help you think about campus master planning and individual building elements and all connecting it to the global climate crisis that we have right now.’”
As founder of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) -- through which the arena is seeking a “no fossil fuels” certification -- McLennan is a necessary piece of the puzzle. The ILFI -- according to their website -- “is a nonprofit working to build an ecologically-minded, restorative world for all people [through] principles of social and environmental justice.” The organization’s primary goal is “to counter climate change by pushing for an urban environment free of fossil fuels,” lining it up perfectly with the Seattle Climate Pledge Arena. To meet the requirements set by the ILFI, Pilling writes that the Arena “will be fully electrified and will generate some of its own energy using on-site solar panels.” Furthermore, a majority of “its energy will come from off-site renewable sources, some mixture of solar and wind power.” By McLennan’s recommendations, this combination will allow the facility to function as “the world’s first ILFI-certified zero carbon arena.” Perhaps a first for sports stadiums, single-use plastics will also be banned. McLennan notes that “‘everything that the fans, the attendees will see will be things that can either be recycled or they can be composted.”
Through Amazon’s sponsorship, commitment by fans and McLennan’s sustainability expertise, the Seattle Climate Pledge Arena will stand as evidence of how our buildings can and must evolve to adapt to a changing climate. It will also stand as evidence of how thoughtful, eco-conscious design leads to usable, functional buildings in which nothing of the fan experience must be lost.