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LA Coliseum naming-rights deal in doubt

United Airlines’ deal to take on naming rights to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is in doubt amid criticism that a rebrand would be disrespectful to the history of the iconic stadium.

The stadium opened almost 96 years ago and was originally commissioned as a memorial to honour the city’s World War I veterans. It was later rededicated in 1968, the 50th anniversary of the Armistice, to include all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I.

The Coliseum, which is the only venue in the world to have hosted two Olympic Games, two Super Bowls and a World Series, was declared a state and national historic landmark in 1984. The stadium will host a third Olympics when Los Angeles stages the event in 2028.

In January 2018, it was announced that United Airlines will support the $270m (£206m/€240m) redevelopment of the stadium after agreeing a naming-rights deal for the venue. Under a 16-year contract with the University of Southern California (USC), the stadium’s operators, the 93,000-capacity venue is due to become the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum from August.

However, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reports that the rebrand is in doubt due to concerns over the deal among politicians and veterans groups.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn condemned the sponsorship deal in an opinion piece for the Times, saying: “Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is not just a stadium – it is a war memorial. Removing ‘Los Angeles’ and replacing it with a corporate sponsor insults the memories of those the Coliseum was intended to honour.”

Hahn is the president of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, which gave USC control of the stadium as part of a 98-year lease agreement.

Hahn added: “Throughout it all, Los Angeles has never broken faith with the Coliseum’s dedicatory purpose. We’ve never messed with its name, which resides in the National Register of Historic Places. Until now.”

Hahn has also started an online petition and is urging Carol Folt, the incoming president of USC, to reverse the decision to rename the stadium.

In a statement reported by the Times, USC said it would “be amenable to accepting the wishes of the veteran community to modify the proposed naming agreement to United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.”

United Airlines, however, has maintained its stance on the naming-rights agreement. In a letter to USC, United Airlines California president Janet Lamkin insisted that a name change is “the key provision of our sponsorship agreement”.

Lamkin added: “If USC is not in a position to honour the terms of the agreement, including in particular the name change, United would be amenable to abiding by the wishes of the community, stepping away from this partnership with USC.”

The deal between United Airlines and USC will result in the restoration of the Coliseum’s iconic peristyle, honouring its original design. Other improvements will include additional aisles, handrails, wider seats, more legroom, cup holders, updated Wi-Fi, concessions expansion and improvements, and updated electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.

The stadium hosts college American football team the USC Trojans and currently serves as the home of NFL team the Los Angeles Rams ahead of its move to a new stadium in Inglewood.

Image: Los Angeles