Ninety-plus years ago, the concept of “naming rights” for stadiums didn’t exist, not the way we understand it today, anyway, where a company pays a team millions simply to plaster its name on a ballpark, stadium or arena.
There has been considerable discussion on this site and elsewhere about whether Wrigley Field was named after the team’s owner, William Wrigley Jr., or after his eponymous gum company.
I’ve got the definitive answer for you, but first, a little bit about the history of “naming rights.”
Another ballpark that was built around the same time as Wrigley Field — first known as Weeghman Park — was Fenway Park in Boston. Fenway was, and is, located in a part of Boston known as the “Back Bay Fens,” a parkland area with gardens, ball fields, playgrounds and picnic areas. You can see it here:
“Fen” is a very old English word used to describe a marshy or boggy area, which was what the “Fenway” originally was.
So the park was named after that section of Boston, right?
... in 1912, the Boston Red Sox were still partly owned by the same man who owned Fenway Realty Company: John Irving Taylor. Though he was in the process of relinquishing his control of the team to James McAleer, Taylor preserved just enough influence so that he could wield the power to name the shiny new stadium that he’d initiated the construction of (as well as remain the ballpark’s actual owner).
Naturally, there was no official “naming rights” deal drawn up. That was a concept that wouldn’t formally appear for more than half a century. Still, Taylor managed a clever solution, which would leave an indelible legacy.
In naming the Red Sox’ new home Fenway Park, Taylor gave his Fenway Realty Company free name recognition. Still, when asked if he was shamelessly plugging his own company in the naming of a baseball team’s new stadium, the outgoing owner had a readymade response.
He declared it was named Fenway, “because [the park’s] in the Fenway, isn’t it?”
So... maybe John Irving Taylor got some free PR for his realty company, but there wasn’t a “naming rights” deal back then, not as we understand them today. The irony, of course, is that “Fenway Park” is a name that’s become iconic and fans in Boston would yell and scream to high heaven if the Red Sox ever actually wanted to sign a real naming-rights deal, which they almost certainly won’t.
The first real attempt at naming rights for a stadium was tried by Anheuser-Busch shortly after they bought the Cardinals in 1953. Gussie Busch wanted to name the stadium the Cardinals played in, then called Sportsman’s Park, “Budweiser Stadium.” Then-Commissioner Ford Frick vetoed this move because Budweiser was an alcohol product. (Imagine something like that happening in 2020. We’ve got two MLB stadiums named after beers, though one of those, Miller Park, will get a new naming-rights deal in 2021.) Busch then named the place Busch Stadium, ostensibly after himself... but then he immediately created a new product called Busch Bavarian Beer, and used the stadium name to promote the sales of this beer. Even so, many people in St. Louis continued to call the place Sportsman’s Park, until the first Busch Memorial Stadium was built to replace it in downtown St. Louis in 1966.
Now, of course, the majority of MLB parks have official naming-rights deals. Just 10 remain without: Fenway, Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Kauffman Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Nationals Park, Yankee Stadium, Marlins Park...
... and Wrigley Field, and now I return to the definitive proof I mentioned earlier.
When Charlie Weeghman (not “Weegham,” “Weegam” or any of the other misspellings I’ve seen) had the ballpark the Cubs now call home built for his Federal League club in 1914, he named it after himself. This wasn’t uncommon in those days — Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Comiskey Park on the south side of Chicago and Ebbets Field in Brooklyn are other examples of parks built around the second decade of the 20th Century similarly named.
Weeghman was granted ownership of the Cubs after the Federal League fell apart, but he quickly got into financial trouble and sold to a group that included William Wrigley Jr., who took over majority ownership of the Cubs in 1921. When Weeghman sold, the ballpark became generally known as Cubs Park.
That lasted until December 1926, when team executives had their annual winter meeting. Among other things accomplished at that meeting, they named Margaret Donahue, who had worked for the team since 1919, corporate secretary. She was generally acknowledged to be the first woman named to such a high position with a baseball club, and among other things, she pioneered the sale of season tickets. She remained with the ballclub in that position until she retired in 1958. A small playground run by the Chicago Park District only a few blocks from Wrigley Field is named in her honor.
Oh yes, Wrigley Field. That’s another thing the Cubs did at that meeting December 3, 1926. The Sporting News reported in its edition of December 9, 1926:
Nothing of a startling nature was perpetrated except for a few changes in the office personnel, the bestowing of laudatory resolutions on Manager Joe McCarthy, and the selection of a name for the local park. Henceforth it will be known as Wrigley Field in honor of the man who owns it.
That’s it. Right there in print, and just to make sure you believe me, here’s a screenshot of the entire first paragraph of that Sporting News article:
Now, just to be clear: Did Mr. Wrigley’s gum company get some ancillary benefit from having its name on the ballpark? Of course it did, I’m certainly not blind to that sort of thing. With the name “Wrigley” in big letters out front of Mr. Wrigley’s park — and remember, the giant marquee that blares out that name wasn’t constructed until 1934 — people would have had the gum company placed in their minds, and almost certainly it helped gum sales. When William Wrigley Jr. died in 1932, his son P.K. became Cubs owner. P.K. Wrigley definitely knew marketing and no doubt took real advantage of having his dad’s name on his ballpark. Four decades after William Wrigley Jr.’s grandson William III sold the team, the ballpark still bears the name. However, likely no money is going from the Wrigley Gum Co. (sold to Mars Incorporated in 2008) to the Ricketts family for the name.
And it wasn’t named “Wrigley Field” for the company. It was named for the man who owned it, just as many such edifices — including the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, which opened in 1924 — were in those days. If you’ve ever wondered the true story... you’ve just read it.