Sports Authority’s fall reignites Mile High name debate
Denver — The demise of Sports Authority has reignited a fight in Colorado over the future of the Denver Broncos’ stadium, a place long tied to the city’s identity.
It’s been over a decade since the team’s first home was demolished, but its Mile High name has lived on, in smaller letters, on its sleek, modern successor after a failed grassroots campaign to stop corporate sponsorship. First it was Invesco Field at Mile High. After the mutual funds company faltered, Sports Authority stepped in and bought out the stadium naming rights contract, keeping the legendary name attached.
Now that it’s fallen on hard times of its own, Sports Authority hopes to sell off its naming rights, just like all the clothing, gear and fixtures in its stores.
But the Broncos and the officials appointed to run the taxpayer-built stadium are fighting that in bankruptcy court. They say they have the right to review and veto any deal, but they haven’t said whether they would insist on keeping Mile High in the name. They’re also trying to cancel the sponsorship deal, claiming in a filing Friday that Sports Authority hasn’t paid $2.1 million in quarterly payments since February.
This being Colorado, there are some marijuana companies that would like to take over the naming rights. They would be happy to link their names to Mile High.
State Rep. Dan Pabon, who grew up watching John Elway play in the old Mile High Stadium, tried to pass a bill requiring Mile High to stay in the name. It passed the House with bipartisan support only to be killed soon after reaching the Senate. But he vows to try again if the legendary name is dropped.
Even as newcomers loyal to other teams and pastimes continue to flock to Denver, Pabon said it’s a perfect time to make sure that piece of history is preserved.
“The population is changing, the buildings are changing, the team is changing,” he said. “But one thing that will never change is the Mile High spirit and hopefully the Mile High name.”
Pabon expects some sort of corporate name to remain and bring in millions for the stadium. But after two troubled sponsorships, some want to just go back to plain old Mile High.
The Broncos’ first home was built in 1948 for the city’s minor league baseball team, the Denver Bears. Moveable stands were added to the horseshoe-shaped stadium after the city became the proud hosts of the Broncos, its first major sports team, in 1960. After voters failed to pay for a new stadium in 1967, loyal fans raised money and bought it for the city, which re-named it Denver Mile High Stadium.
Denver Post columnist Woody Paige thinks Invesco and Sports Authority were cursed for forcing their name on the stadium and warns others not to follow their example.
Before the new stadium opened in 2001, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb joined forces with then-brew pub owner and now-Gov. John Hickenlooper to fight the original name change, a campaign that launched Hickenlooper’s political career. Webb recently wrote an op-ed calling for the name to be returned to Mile High as a reward to the Broncos’ fans, one million of whom turned out for this year’s Super Bowl victory parade.
“That tagline is our identity and our pride, not unlike New York’s ‘Big Apple’ and Chicago’s ‘Windy City, ” he wrote.
Donna Yost, a 21-year season ticket holder who drives 3 ½ hours east from Glenwood Springs to cheer on the Broncos, sees the Mile High name as something that celebrates the uniqueness of Colorado and the competitiveness of the Broncos, since they’re used to playing in thinner air. She loves the video played at games showing players sucking oxygen and the warning sign about the altitude outside the visiting team’s locker room.
Yost, a bookkeeper and triathlete, remembers seeing Rod Smith get his first reception as a pro at Mile High Stadium and not being able to hear herself at a Monday night game against the Oakland Raiders. After Sports Authority took over the naming rights at the new stadium built next to it, she was so irked it put up lights in its trademark red color that she boycotted the store.
“This is Broncos stadium, come on. You shouldn’t have Kansas City Chief colors on there,” she said.