I know it is hard for those in college and younger to imagine a world with no Redboxes and no streaming Netflix. We heathens of the previous generation had to make a trip to a movie rental store during specific business hours in order to rent a movie or game.
Yes, there are a few still around and have found their niche in the world of on demand movies, but the entire model came crashing down to the ground in a blaze of glory. Even those that have never stepped foot in a chain rental store have heard of Blockbuster. Little did people realize that another movie rental company, Movie Gallery of Dothan, Alabama, was the second largest.
Thus began a weirdly beneficial partnership between a school and business that is still hard to comprehend six years after it all crashed and burned. This partnership changed the way that many college football programs handled naming rights and ushered in an era of college stadium corporate sponsorship.
In 2003, Movie Gallery was a national movie rental company that had just over 2,000 stores. The business model seemed flawless and money was rolling in for the company. Everything about the industry gave the impression that business would never slow down.
During that time, CEO and co-founder Joe Malugen helped come up with the idea to buy the naming rights of Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of the Troy Trojans. Why Troy? The idea of sponsoring a local team making the jump to the FBS seemed like a no brainer.
It would be the one of the first times that a FBS level program sold the rights of an on campus stadium to a private business. Syracuse (Carrier) and and Louisville (Papa Johns) went earlier, but Troy selling their naming rights to Movie Gallery just seemed different.
Since then, the model has been adopted by teams like Arkansas State (Centennial Bank Stadium), Boise State (Albertson's Stadium), Western Kentucky (Houchens Industries–L. T. Smith Stadium) and others. Other programs have corporately sponsored stadiums, but are sharing the stadium with another team. Lincoln Financial Field, a stadium that is shared by the Temple Owls and the Philadephia Eagles, comes to mind.
Troy was more than happy to entertain the idea of a sponsor. A major reason was to give the school a reason to take away the field naming rights that were given to HealthSouth founder Richard M. Scrushy for his contribution to construction fees. Scrushy was later embroiled in a trial for alleged financial misdeeds, causing a PR nightmare for the school.
In stepped Movie Gallery. The movie rental behemoth agreed to a 20-year contract with Troy University that would net the school $250,000 per year in naming rights. That deal would end up with the Trojans getting $5 million over the 20 year period. That does not sound like a lot of money for bigger programs, but for a team attempting to make the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision, it was a huge boost.
The Movie Gallery stadium naming rights fueled the Trojans to start a series of renovations for the then 53-year old stadium. This was instrumental due to the fact that Troy had to expand the stadium for the move to the FBS. Troy spent the 2002 and 2003 seasons as a FBS independent program, making the transition to the Sun Belt Conference.
Among the changes that the Movie Gallery money fueled was a completed upper deck, a larger press box, multiple luxury boxes, the removal of the track around the stadium, and more permanent seating in the stadium. The chief improvement came from the seating capacity jumping from 17,500 to 30,000.
Yes, I pulled the stadium tour from NCAA 2010 to show off Movie Gallery Stadium at its best.
It was a match made in heaven for the first few years. Movie Gallery was still rolling along, expanding to over 4,000 stores nationwide, while also getting publicity when Troy played on national television. The two entities became intertwined with many people unable to think of Troy without thinking of Movie Gallery.
Then things changed dramatically. In 2007, a DVD by mail company called Netflix made the decision to change their method of service and offer streaming services in addition to mail rentals. This was one of the biggest business game changers of the last 25 years. Suddenly, people started to realize that it was much easier to use this streaming service to watch movies and other shows than to head to the local Movie Gallery.
Later in 2007, in an effort to stem the overwhelming tide of Netflix, Movie Gallery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Hundreds of stores went out of business over the next three years until Movie Gallery made their final choice. The company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May of 2010 and closed their final stores on July 31, ending their time as a company.
Only five years and $1.25 million into a $5 million contract with Troy University, Movie Gallery defaulted on the naming agreement. The 2009 football season was the last to see Movie Gallery's name on the stadium.
In 2010, the stadium reverted back to Veterans Memorial Stadium, the name of the stadium since its first construction in 1950. One year later, the playing surface was named after Trojans coaching legend Larry Blakeney.
Six years after the agreement dissolved, there is not a trace of one of the weirder sports business relationships in college football history. Despite missing out on $3.75 million of the contract with Movie Gallery, the Troy Trojans benefited immensely during a time when they needed it the most.