The University of Tennessee has agreed to a 10-year, $20 million naming rights deal to add Food City Center to Thompson-Boling Arena, where the Vols and Lady Vols play basketball.
Both names will be used to refer to the facility, which will now be called Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center. And the basketball floor will continue to be called The Summitt, named after legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.
UT made the announcement Wednesday with Food City, the family-owned supermarket chain popular in East Tennessee and headquartered in Abingdon, Virginia. It has been a sponsor of UT athletics since 1997.
Thompson-Boling Arena opened in 1987 and touts the third-largest seating capacity (21,678) among on-campus basketball facilities, trailing only Syracuse’s Carrier Dome and North Carolina’s Dean Smith Center.
It is named after B. Ray Thompson Sr. (1906-87), who donated $5 million in 1982 toward the arena’s construction, and former UT President Dr. Edward J. Boling (1922-2015).
The arena also hosts UT volleyball matches, concerts, camps, conferences and other events. On Friday, UT volleyball will play its season opener against Texas State in the first event in the newly-named Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.
Why Tennessee sold naming rights to arena
Selling naming rights to a sponsor is a notable shift for UT. It’s a way of generating revenue that’s become common in college athletics in recent years.
The $20 million deal will aid in renovations to Thompson-Boling Arena and upgrades to the fan experience for games and other events. New club amenities, updates to the Ray Mears Room, new center-hung video board, a new modernized exterior façade to the facility are among the planned enhancements.
“We are thrilled to partner with Food City on this transformative naming rights opportunity, the first of its kind for Tennessee athletics,” athletics director Danny White said in a school release. “Food City is a neighborhood partner who knows our state and region extremely well and has been a key partner for Tennessee athletics for nearly 30 years.
“Food City is a valued member of our community and bleeds orange, and we look forward to taking this partnership to another level.”
Food City traces its roots to a store in Greeneville, Tennessee, in 1918. It now operates 152 retail locations in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Virginia.
“Food City is proud to be a long-time supporter and the official supermarket of the University of Tennessee athletics,” Food City President/CEO Steven C. Smith said. “We’re excited to take our partnership to the next level with the naming of the Food City Center, which will serve as a hub for UT athletics, as well as other key events within the Knoxville community.”
Will Tennessee sell naming rights to other stadiums?
Thompson-Boling Arena may not be the last UT facility to take on a corporate name.
In June, the UT Board of Trustees approved a $95.8 million renovation budget to Lindsey Nelson Stadium, where the Vols play baseball. Among the projected revenues was nearly $8 million in naming rights.
That does not mean UT will rename Lindsey Nelson Stadium, named for the late legendary broadcaster Lindsey Nelson. But it does open the possibility as part of UT’s plan to fund the stadium renovations, which began in August.
However, it is typical for numerous parts of a stadium to be options for naming rights.
Neyland Stadium, UT’s iconic 101,915-seat football facility, obviously would draw the biggest payday in a potential naming rights deal. But there’s been no open discussion about that possibility.