What’s in a Name? From the Jake to Progressive Field, Nine Years Ago Today

Nine years ago today, the ballpark at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario changed its name.

The ballpark, known as Jacobs Field since it opened in 1994, would be renamed Progressive Field. The naming rights were sold to the insurance company headquartered in Mayfield Village, then, as now, one of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio.

Progressive signed a 16-year agreement for roughly $3.6 million a year – 1 percent of the company’s advertising budget at the time. The agreement through 2024 would take the naming rights through to the end of the original 30-year lease for the ballpark.

“We are very excited,” said Progressive president and CEO Glenn Renwick at the time of the naming announcement, “about getting exposure to an estimated 120 million baseball fans around the nation, the exposure we’ll get on national television, and, clearly, the support in the local community will be enhanced by this arrangement.”

Original drawings of the baseball-only stadium downtown called it simply “Indians Park.” But owner Dick Jacobs bought the naming rights for $10 million, and in the halcyon days of the mid-1990s, the park was Jacobs Field – the Jake, to its millions of friends. (Naming the field for the team’s owner was not unprecedented. In the 1920’s when the Indians’ home was League Park, that ballpark was known as Dunn Field in honor of owner Jim Dunn.)

Jacobs sold the team in 1999, but the contract for the naming rights ran through 2006. The Dolan family, the team’s new owners, started looking for new namesakes with the help of Cleveland-based IMG, but in the meantime, kept the Jacobs Field name through the 2007 season – when the Indians, far removed from the 1990’s glory days, made a postseason run that came one win away from the World Series.

The following January, the new name was announced.

“Progressive was a company we identified early on [in the process] because of their world scope, the Cleveland base and, frankly, it was a great name,” Indians president Paul Dolan said. “When something looks like it’s going to fit, and it’s a natural thing, it goes pretty well, and that’s how this went.”

The Indians paid $1.2 million to change lots of signage in and around the ballpark (I was an editor at a small newspaper in Northwest Ohio at the time, and we got a press kit about the changes, including a large sign with the logo and the ballpark’s new name). And in some ways, it still hasn’t took.

Tom Hamilton leads off his broadcasts by talking about the game being underway at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Cleveland-themed T-shirts, a growth industry in the area, proclaim it’s “still the Jake”. And in some ways, it’s become a punchline (how many people did you hear during the World Series talk about the irony of a team with a retrograde logo like Chief Wahoo playing in a place called “Progressive” Field?).

But in the litany of ballpark names, it’s not a bad one. It’s easy to forget that the ballpark wasn’t Jacobs Field out of some sense of gratitude to the Jacobs brothers, heralded for saving baseball in Cleveland. Dick Jacobs paid for it. And for every ballpark named simply for its tenants (Yankee or Dodger stadiums), there were just as many with corporate names.

At least it wasn’t Enron.

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