Empower this: Why do Broncos fans care whose name is on the stadium?

General view of Broncos Stadium at Mile High before the game between the Colorado State Rams vs Colorado Buffaloes. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Answer me this, Mr. or Mrs. Broncos Fan: Are you now, or will you be, loyal to Empower Retirement?

Do you feel indebted to the company that finally stepped up and (re)named the ol’ barn where the Broncos play? It’s not really that “old” – born in 2001 – but by modern sports standards, it’s certainly not new, either. There are newer stadiums, bigger stadiums, fancier stadiums, gaudier stadiums. Empower, as we were told yesterday, will help in the efforts to keep the stadium up to spec for the next 21 years. Keeping up a building like that, as one might imagine, can’t be cheap.

Actually, did it bother you that the stadium had no name (sort of) after Sports Authority went under?

Will you like or dislike the Denver Broncos any more or less because of the old stadium’s new name?

Will your gameday experience be any different at all because it now takes place inside Empower Field at Mile High? Better? Worse? Both the Broncos and Empower promise that the newly-inked 21-year naming rights agreement will help ensure that the fan experience will be on par with, well, with “The Joneses” (although probably not quite like Jerry Jones’).

“He recognizes how important the gameday experience is for our fans or a concert experience is for those that come here during the summer to witness some of these big concerts that we have and the like,” said Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis of Edmund Murphy III, the president and CEO of Empower Retirement.

That’s got to be a good thing, right? There’s upkeep, upgrades, evolving technology, must-have modern amenities – you know, the usual stuff required of those running a 2-million square-foot facility. It all takes coin.

And Empower Retirement, who’s in the business of retirement funds, has a lot of that. The company is the country’s second largest retirement plan provider, and they became that through a long, sturdy history and plenty of bigtime acquisitions – Empower has a track record of “getting bigger.” Empower was recently rumored to be in the mix to buy all of Wells Fargo’s 401k business (before Principal Financial Group won out), and Great-West’s (Empower’s parent company) purchase of J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services in 2014 was one of the largest deals in recent years. Empower Retirement handles 9.2 million retirement accounts and more than $653 billion in assets. To be clear, all that money (yours) was not used to purchase naming rights – that money merely comes out of Empower’s profitability.

Funny thing, a lot of folks have never even heard of the massive company, or know just exactly what it does. Even Murphy III owns up to this: “One of the challenges that we’ve had for a long time is awareness, brand awareness, both aided and unaided awareness, so we’ve made a conscious choice to look at ways to promote the brand,” he said during Thursday’s press conference. Empower is essentially the result of several behemoth financial companies coming together and rebranding itself as one; and the Broncos are the beneficiary of its slick new branding campaign.

But enough business talk. This isn’t WSJ.com. This is sports.

Give me a win on MNF over the Raiders before a new name on the building any day and twice on Sunday – err, Monday. After this week, you’ll “hear” the name Empower a lot, but this week is probably the last time any of us will ever “talk about it.”

Seriously, do you care? Or, how much do you care? Apparently, you do, or at least social media suggests a lot of you do. Why?

For the record, here’s what I like:

Empower Retirement is local (basically). They employ a heck of a lot of Coloradoans – “about 3,000,” per Ellis. They “serve the needs of 212,000 Colorado residents through 4,900 different retirement plans,” per Murphy III. The original company moved its U.S headquarters to Denver in 1979 and has been here ever since. There’s something to be said for consistency.

Then again, it’s not like it’s local local. I don’t believe Empower is truly like a “local” company – at least the way I personally think of a local company. I can’t exactly swing in and shoot the sh*t with the owner – like Chris over at Blake Street Tavern (since ’03), or Pete from Illegal Pete’s (since ’95), Kathy or Marina from Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson (since ’79) or even Pete (yes, that Pete, who used to run the show in Golden) from Coors (since 1873). And that’s okay; There’s nothing wrong with being “big;” I’m just not ready to think of Empower as some bootstrap, mom-n-pop. In fact, Empower is a subsidiary of Great West Financial (aka Great West Life), which is publicly traded on the Canadian Stock Exchange. And that’s okay, too. That certainly doesn’t make Empower bad. They’re still a good neighbor.

I also like that the company seems to be sturdy and reliable. Its history dates back to 1891. Empower doesn’t seem like the kind of company that’s going disappear overnight (fun while it lasted, eh Invesco?) or file bankruptcy (Dear Sports Authority, I purchased a basketball a few years ago, and it doesn’t hold air any longer… I have a question about the return policy…) and, essentially, embarrass the Broncos or the Denver Metropolitan Stadium District.

Empower’s financial commitment is estimated to be close to $5 million per year. The Stadium District takes about $3 million annually, the Broncos get about $2 million. Technically, since “we” the taxpayers own the stadium, the new deal outlines that over time, $58.6 million goes back to “us” (in the form of keeping up our stadium).

All good things.

Some things I don’t like, or at least, some realities:

I don’t like the logo. Hey, it’s just a personal preference. It’s unimaginative and red and orange clash. Again, who cares? Doesn’t affect the score on Sundays.

I don’t like that modern sports have come to this – this idea that teams can’t compete or that you or I can’t enjoy our gameday experience like some fan from some other town unless the stadium’s name is a mouthful. I don’t like that calling the stadium “Pat Bowlen Field at Mile High” isn’t economically feasible (or so we can infer). With no offense intended to Empower at all, that just kind of sucks.

I didn’t like the unbelievably, ridiculously long security lines getting into Sports Authority Field or Broncos Stadium at Mile High. I’m pretty sure I won’t like them at Empower Field at Mile High, either. In 18 years, this nuisance has only gotten worse. Here’s hoping those Empower dollars can help with that sometime in the next 21.

I don’t like that the facelift we’re about to see will be gaudy (and probably ugly, assuming you don’t love the logo either). According to the agreement, and per 9News, the sign on the south side of the stadium will occupy 4,251 total square feet. By comparison, the Sports Authority sign was 2,500. The north side will be 3,100 square feet; east and west will each total 2,000. Again though, as long as I can see the field from my seat inside, I couldn’t care less.

I don’t like that the Stadium District estimates that over the next 30 years, a half billion dollars will be required for upkeep and modernization (and they’re probably right; even if they’re off by $100 million or so, it’s a lot of dough). I’m not mathematician, but I believe the Empower deal would cover “very little” of that. Makes you wonder how all this upkeep and modernization will really happen, doesn’t it? Surely someone smarter than me already has a plan for that.

I don’t like that I’ve already written more than 1,000 words about the stadium’s new name. But dammit, I just did. I promise it won’t happen again. I care about the team, not the name on the outside of the building it plays in.

Vance Joseph irritated me. Vic Fangio makes me laugh. Six-and-10 makes me mad. Football in late January makes me happy.

A name on a stadium? It makes me, well, nothing. It’s just a name.

And what’s in a name?

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