13 more years of the Linc! How the Eagles stadium got its name, and where the money goes

The naming rights sponsorship model originated in the 1970s with the Patriots (ugh).

The Linc, in all its glory

The Linc, in all its glory

Gloria Bell / Flickr Creative Commons
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

Updated May 10

Want your company’s logo emblazoned on the Eagles stadium? Pay enough for naming rights and you can make it happen.

Just ask the Lincoln Financial Group, the 20-year namesake of the South Philly birdcage. A stadium’s title forms a quintessential part of an NFL team’s identity. And for as long as the Pattison Avenue arena has been in existence, it’s gone by the Linc.

“Winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal,” said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in 1994. (Check ✅) “Stadiums and training facilities, however, are a vital element in the success and stability of franchises on both a present and long-term basis.”

The Eagles announced on Thursday afternoon that the financial investment group renewed its sponsorship, extending its naming rights from 2022 until 2032. The deal was worth $170 million, nearly doubling the amount the banking company will pay annually for the privilege.

What’s the backstory to the deal? Here’s everything you need to know.

How long has it been the Linc?

The Linc has been the Linc since its very inception.

Rising in the ashes of the demolished Veterans Stadium, the Linc opened in 2003 with a Monday Night Football faceoff between the Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lincoln Financial Group had signed a 20-year naming rights agreement the year prior, while the facility was still under construction in June 2002.

The deal worked like this: Since the bank signed on, they’ve cut the Eagles a $6.7 million check each year. The clock was ticking on that sponsorship, which was set to expire in 2022.

Where does the money go?

It may seem strange for sports teams to sell off the naming rights for their own stadiums — brand recognition, who dis? — but they’ve got to pay off their debts somehow.

Back in 1999, contractors started drafting up blueprints for a South Philadelphia sports arena where the Birds could play. In total, it would cost $512 million — the bill split among the state, the city and the NFL team.

That means the Eagles were on the hook for roughly $320 million, according to 2002 Inquirer coverage. To cut its losses, the team sought a sponsor. Enter the Lincoln Financial Group, which was willing to pay off a little more than a third of the Birds’ construction debt.

What even is Lincoln Financial?

It’s a Radnor, Pa.-headquartered financial planning company. Basically, they help you figure out the future of your money, via investments, insurance, annuities and retirement programs.

It was founded in 1905 — apparently with direct approval from the 16th president’s son — and today employs roughly 9,000 people.

Why is their name on a Philly stadium in the first place?

In the late ’90s, the Lincoln Financial Group had a branding problem. The company had just moved to the Main Line from Indiana in 1998, and few locals knew who they were.

Searching for a way to boost local brand recognition, the group decided to fund the new stadium.

How much did they originally pay?

No one said it would be cheap. To name the stadium for two decades, it cost the team a whopping $139.6 million, per a 2002 Inquirer report. Today, that’s the nation’s 18th most expensive active deal for a stadium name.

They’ve held onto the name to this day — and will continue to do so until 2032.

We shouldn’t take it for granted that the Eagles’ deal has lasted so long. As evidenced by the Pattison Avenue subway stop, it can take a bunch of work to rename a city destination. And some stadiums have had to perform the undertaking unexpectedly — companies like Enron in Houston and PSINet in Baltimore went bankrupt after they signed naming deals, and the corresponding teams had to scramble for new sponsors.

It’s happened locally, too. Thanks to acquisitions and mergers, the neighboring Flyers/Sixers arena has had four names since it opened in 1996: the CoreStates Center, the First Union Center, the Wachovia Center and the Wells Fargo Center.

Where did the idea to sell naming rights come from?

The stadium sponsorship model was, unfortunately, piloted by the Patriots (ugh).

In the ’70s, the New England team lacked a geographic identity. Without a permanent stadium to call its own through its early years, the team mostly floated around Boston-area college fields — until the NFL pushed the Pats to find a permanent home. Problem is… the team couldn’t really afford it.

With plans in the works for a $6.7 million facility, the Patriots’ owner tracked down a local company called Schaefer Beer — which had previously sponsored the 1939 World’s Fair and Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

The self-loving beverage company agreed to front a quarter of the stadium costs. And with that, the model was born.

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