What’s in a Stadium Name? Backlash Over $10M Valley Children’s Deal - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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What’s in a Stadium Name? Backlash Over $10M Valley Children’s Deal

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Social media posters are unhappy over the stadium naming rights pact between Fresno State and Valley Children's. (GV Wire/Paul Marshall)
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Valley Children’s Healthcare’s $10 million, 10-year deal for the naming rights to Fresno State’s football stadium has prompted a backlash on social media and across the community that some say will make them think twice before donating to support the children’s hospital.

The deal, which was announced in August 2021, was finalized last week when the California State University Board of Trustees voted to approve it. Bulldog Stadium will now be known as Valley Children’s Stadium.

But the deal isn’t sitting well with some area residents who say Valley Children’s is “squandering funds” and inappropriately putting its name on a facility where sports injuries such as concussions are likelier to occur.

They questioned whether Valley Children’s was spending money from donations, such as from the annual Kids Day newspaper sales that for years raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single day in March, or from fundraising efforts in grocery stores.

Unusual Arrangement

The critics ask, why not buy naming rights to a school of nursing, or something more appropriate to children’s healthcare? And why does Valley Children’s even need to market itself, since it is already well-known to Valley families, whether or not they’ve used its services?

“What would any business or MBA student tell you about bad PR? They will never get another donation from me because I see this as squandering funds,” a northwest Fresno resident said on the Next Door app.

A nonprofit spending $10 million on stadium naming rights is certainly unusual, said Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits.

“It’s rare for a nonprofit to spend a large amount sponsoring a building name,” she said. “That’s a lot of money. Who’s their competition? It’s usually that sort of thing that prompts a big push, in response to a perceived concern.”

Valley Children’s is, in fact in competition with healthcare providers all over the country to attract the best pediatric subspecialists and clinicians. And, those health professionals are becoming harder and harder to find, president and CEO Todd Suntrapak told GV Wire on Monday.

National Name Recognition

With every Fresno State football game scheduled to be nationally televised this year, attaching Valley Children’s name to the football stadium will gain a lot more national exposure and possibly open a few more eyes to the job opportunities here, Suntrapak said.

“If we had to try and secure the number of mentions that we will receive and as the stadium is named and those broadcasts occur, if we had to try and secure that number of mentions just by buying it on the spot market to try and enhance our national brand recognition, we would easily outstrip the investment that we’re making in Fresno State,” he said.

Valley Children’s devotes about $4 million to $5 million annually to marketing, which has included radio and TV spots, print advertising, bus wraps, and billboards, he said. The potential to recruit more physicians and clinicians was worth devoting $1 million of the marketing budget each year for the naming rights agreement, Suntrapak said.

Marketing is among Valley Children’s business expenses paid for through its revenue stream, not out of donations, he said.

How will Suntrapak know whether the campaign has been successful? In addition to counting the new hires, he said there will be potential new slots in physical and occupational therapy and other allied health professional positions that could result from the Valley Children’s/Fresno State partnership.

As for the community backlash to the naming rights agreement, Suntrapak said he wasn’t entirely surprised that there has been some, although he wasn’t expecting it to be quite so strong.

Could it hurt future donations? “I’m certain that we will have some ability to do a look-back on that and see if there’s been any impact in that regard,” he said.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email