Little Caesars Arena Brand Plan Deserves a (Pizza) Pie in the Face

By: Michele Tate

Detroit truly is the comeback city.

The housing market is rebounding with high-demand developments popping up everywhere. Businesses are planting themselves in Downtown and Midtown to be at the center of all the action. And a brand new arena development is being planted as the cornerstone of The Detroit District—the $1.2 billion live, work and play destination that will connect Downtown to Midtown.

The arena will be the new home of Hockeytown’s own Detroit Red Wings—arguably the greatest hockey franchise of all time— when they move out of historic Joe Louis Arena. Last week, the new arena name was announced: Little Caesars Arena (insert shock and confusion here).

Why did this whole effort seem like a bust?

Let’s start by looking at this from a brand perspective. Naming a company is like naming a baby. It can be a painstaking, emotional process. Names can take into account a number of factors:

  • The history or founding of an entity. This is the equivalent of naming a child after his father. You can’t go wrong with a namesake.
  • The mission or purpose of an entity. Names are defining. Simple, direct or descriptive works.
  • The character of the entity. This is the equivalent of a new mom looking at her baby for the first time and saying “you look like a <insert name here>…”
  • Sheer creativity. It’s ok to make up a word or a name. You can then attach any arbitrary meaning to it that you’d like. Celebs do it all the time with their babies.

Any and all of these factors are great stories to build a brand around. But acknowledging the trend to name venues after corporate sponsors who contribute in their communities—banks, tech entities, communication companies, etc.—does Detroit’s site have to be synonymous with cheap pizza?

Little Caesars Arena gives us one story: $5 Hot-N-Ready.

It’s absolutely no secret that stadium corporate naming rights is part of the modern sports world. In 2014, the Consumerist published a fantastic article about the history of corporate sponsors and baseball stadiums. In fact, Joe Louis Arena was one of the last remaining NHL arenas without a corporate sponsorship name. Perhaps Detroit wasn’t ready to give up this part of its history in exchange for a new arena? Or maybe we were hoping for another name that better reflected Detroit grit and hustle? We may never know the answer, but the reaction to the arena naming announcement spread through social media like a wildfire. Thousands of people signed online petitions calling for a name change within mere days.

I took a quick poll… Here are a handful of respectable and/or creative names we’d have been happy to embrace over Little Caesars Arena:

  • Howe Arena – Named after the legendary Gordie Howe—Detroit’s Mr. Hockey, himself.
  • Ilitch Arena – A respectable nod to the Detroit family that owns Little Caesars, amongst many other entities, and contributes so generously to this community.
  • Olympia Arena – Olympia Entertainment is the sports & entertainment organization that oversees business operations for the Red Wings.
  • District Arena or District Detroit Arena – No one hates a venue named after the neighborhood in which it’s located.
  • Hockeytown Arena – A name befitting Detroit’s hockey history, and the phrase “Hockeytown” tied to the winged wheel is already a trademark owned by the Red Wings.
  • Caesar Arena – Nod to Little Caesars; this could be the BIG Caesar. The name Caesar is simultaneously abstract, historical and dignified.
  • Pizzarena, Powered by Little Caesars – Maybe a little too cutesy, but it’s catchy and fun. It rolls off the tongue. There’s a definite acknowledgement of Little Caesars.

Now, on to the creative. As if to add insult to injury, Little Caesars Arena comes along with a weak, awkward attempt at a logo. The icon could represent many things—a speeding hockey puck, an arena, a spinning pizza, etc. It’s a fairly generic (and therefore, benign) abstract shape; about as original as any swoosh or brushed circle logo. The real crime is the way the Little Caesars wordmark is just slapped under the icon with zero concern for continuity of style.

The uber-modern icon and clean arena typeface are haphazardly mismatched with the bulging orange text. There’s been no aesthetic attempt to integrate these disparate elements; they are clearly forced to coexist. Perhaps that sends the message that Little Caesars is more important than the arena. Great for the pizza brand, but tough luck for the surrounding community that’s expected to support the project.

I get it—branding is a serious game of strategy. The objective of the game is to have your company’s name and/or brand presence on the lips and mind of as many people as possible. So in that regard, I guess this could be considered a win for Little Caesars. The company has definitely made its way into the headlines. It might even get a few jokes and comments from the late night talk show circuit. But there comes a point when companies should question whether the wave of exposure is worth fostering a genuine, deep-rooted disdain in the hearts of potential customers.

Surrounded by creatives, marketing pros, and proud Detroiters all day, every day… I’ve yet to run across a single person who thinks this “brand” was a good plan. And there’s a growing resentment for tagging our resurging metropolis with this joke of a venue brand, and attaching it to our beloved Red Wings.

What’s your take? Is this a win for Detroit or a big missed opportunity?