As Delta Center signage goes up, Utah Jazz fans get nostalgic

With some exterior signs going up to mark the arena’s return to its original name, some supporters are noting how much it means to them, and how they’ve never referred to the building as anything else.

Naming rights deals for arenas and stadiums were not really much of a thing until December 1988, when then-Lakers owner Jerry Buss reached an agreement with Great Western Savings & Loan to rebrand “The Forum” in Los Angeles as “The Great Western Forum.”

Today, sports venues not named after a corporate sponsor are virtually nonexistent.

While such arrangements boil down to simple commerce (cash infusions for the teams and advertising for the businesses) and are transitory by nature, some of them nevertheless worm their way into communities’ hearts and become part of the local cultural zeitgeist.

So it is that Thursday’s installation of exterior signage for the rechristened Delta Center is a significant deal to Utah Jazz fans.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A playoffs banner adorns the Delta Center in 1998. The Utah Jazz announced Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, the arena will once again be named Delta Center with a new agreement with Delta Air Lines.

When the team and Delta Airlines held a joint news conference in January to announce that the building’s original name would become official again as of July 1, many of the team’s longtime supporters rejoiced as if reunited with a long-lost friend.

Having the sign installation begin Thursday at Door 5 on the northeast corner, then slated to continue Friday at Door 8 on the southeast side is, to some, nothing less than a tangible manifestation of halcyon days reborn.

“My childhood WAS the Delta Center,” said Jazz fan Garth Gagnier. “I’ve loved the other sponsors but can’t wait for the Delta Center to come home.”

“I love it,” added Meg Rydalch. “Connects our glory days with Stockton and Malone to the good things it feels like the team is building now. We’re home.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers put the Delta back on the building, on Thursday, May 25, 2023.

Of course, not all arena names inspire such devotion.

Some simply aren’t around long enough to gain any traction.

The Miami Heat’s venue opened as American Airlines Arena in 1999, but in June 2021 became rebranded as FTX Arena, after a cryptocurrency exchange. What was supposed to be a 10.5-year agreement fell apart in November 2022, when FTX filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

For a few months, the venue was without a title sponsor and was simply referred to as Miami-Dade Arena. Last month, a 17-year naming rights deal was struck with Miami-based software company Kaseya.

In other cases, new venue names simply can’t compete with the memories associated with an old moniker.

Lakers fans, for example, still primarily refer to what is now known as Crypto.com Arena as the Staples Center, not because they have any particular affinity for that office-supplies company, but rather on account of the nostalgia associated with the team’s history of success in the building under its former name.

So it is with Jazz fans and the Delta Center.

The building opened as the Delta Center in 1991 and was so named when the team made back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in ’97 and ’98. It retained that designation until the namesake airline company terminated the partnership in 2006, a year after declaring bankruptcy owing to post-9/11 struggles.

Though the Jazz subsequently partnered with a low-level nuclear waste processing company in renaming the building EnergySolutions Arena, then with a Provo-based home security company to make it Vivint Smart Home Arena (later shortened to just Vivint Arena), the original name apparently never went away for many Jazz fans.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers put the the Delta back on the building, on Thursday, May 25, 2023.

“I somewhat often would accidentally call it the Delta Center and stopped correcting myself,” said Ryan Short.

“I’ve never stopped calling it the Delta Center,” added Barbie Sunderland. “Kind of like one of those landmarks where you say, ‘Turn left at the red barn.’ I don’t need to confuse my friends!”

“My family has had Jazz season tickets since the ‘80s. When it was called EnergySolutions Arena, my family still referred to it as the Delta Center,” concluded Nicole Seedall. “Glad that everyone is finally on the same page as us.”

Delta CEO Ed Bastian noted at the news conference to announce the renaming that it was a full-circle moment he had a personal investment in.

“I was the one in the chair and made the decision to take the name off the arena, and 16 years later it still haunts me,” he said. “It’s a real honor to be back. They say homecomings are sweet — 16 years later, this is really special.”

The official Delta Center relaunch is set to take place on July 1.