March 27th, 2004
Daddy's Money –Paging Bill Laurie: Your Arena Name Stinks
By Scott Charton
The naming of the University of Missouri’s new basketball arena for a 22-year-old Wal-Mart heiress who never even attended the school has fans, students and alumni more worked up than a second-half technical foul.
“It was bought, not earned. The ego and hubris it takes to buy the biggest university building you can and name it after your daughter is astounding,” said Chris Cary, who co-founded the Nashville alumni chapter.
“It’s Dad buying the biggest dollhouse.”
The venue will be known as Paige Sports Arena, after the middle name of Elizabeth Paige Laurie, a student at the University of Southern California.
She is the only daughter of billionaires Bill and Nancy Laurie, Columbia residents who liquidated $25 million in Wal-Mart stock to jump-start construction of the $75 million arena, set to open this fall. Nancy Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart.
The name Bill Laurie should be familiar to longtime Memphis basketball fans. Laurie was a point guard on the famed Memphis State Tigers team of 1972-73 that finished second in the NCAA Tournament to UCLA and Bill Walton.
Missouri fans are complaining about the naming on online message boards and sports call-in shows. St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz called the name tacky.
“I’m sure she is a wonderful girl, but we shouldn’t name buildings at MU after 22-year-old people who didn’t choose to attend there, just because they are the daughter of wealthy donors,” said Mark Ziegler, a leader of the Seattle-area Missouri alumni chapter.
Some Missouri supporters said they would not be so upset if the arena carried the Laurie family name instead.
The recent announcement included no comment from Paige Laurie, and she declined requests for an interview. So did her parents.
Paige is already the name of a Laurie business; the family owns Paige Sports Entertainment, with holdings including hockey’s St. Louis Blues and their arena, Saavis Center.
The Lauries actually made a bid to purchase the Grizzlies before Michael Heisley, but the NBA did not approve the transaction, saying it wanted the team to remain in Vancouver and not move to St. Louis.
In a statement, Bill and Nancy Laurie said: “As supporters of education and athletics, we are proud of our association with the University of Missouri. As parents, we are very proud of our daughter, Paige. So we could not be happier that the university would combine those two important parts of our lives in naming this new facility the Paige Sports Arena. “
The university actually had no say in the matter, once it signed away naming rights to the Lauries in return for the money.
“Getting the money in advance is nirvana in this business, and it leads to a lot of concessions, and that is happening a lot,” said Professor Dennis Howard, an expert on arena financing at the University of Oregon.