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Gesa Credit Union, Washington State agree to 10-year, minimum $11 million sponsorship deal for naming rights of Martin Stadium playing surface

Fans watch the first half of a Pac-12 Conference football game between Washington State and UCLA at Martin Stadium on Sept. 21, 2019.  (Associated Press)

Get accustomed to it: Gesa Field at Martin Stadium.

One day after athletic director Pat Chun revealed Washington State’s athletic department had identified a corporate sponsor for an unnamed athletics facility, the WSU Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve a 10-year, minimum $11 million corporate sponsorship with Gesa Credit Union.

Gesa’s sponsorship gives the Richland-based company naming rights to the playing surface at Martin Stadium, but not the stadium itself. It’s thought to be the largest single-time donation to WSU athletics in school history, according to Chun, and money from the sponsorship will go toward general operation of the athletic department.

“As we all know, the Palouse region of this country is renowned for its majestic fields, picturesque rolling hills and some of the most important farmland in the entire world,” Chun said during the BOR meeting.

“Yet the most sacred field is 120 yards long and it resides in Martin Stadium on the Pullman campus of the Washington State University system.”

A promotional video released by the school showed a mock-up of the playing field with white “Gesa Field” lettering at the 50-yard line, replacing the traditional Cougars head that sits at midfield.

The Gesa sponsorship is nonexclusive and therefore won’t impact the school’s long-standing sponsorships with BECU credit union or U.S. Bank.

Chun said the deal includes “additional milestones in the agreement that would create additional Gesa donation opportunities to athletics.”

Negotiations between Gesa and WSU began more than a year ago, in February , and Chun said employees of the Tri-Cities-based credit union paid a socially distanced visit to the Pullman campus “to take a look at all the assets that would be in play.”

While Gesa is the second-largest credit union in Washington, CEO and President Don Miller felt a partnership with the state’s second-largest academic institution would be a way of improving the company’s outreach.

“WSU is very well-known,” Miller said. “There are hardcore Coug fans, which is excellent, and it’s something they are very much about community and so are we. … It really married up to be a very nice partner to serve a lot of the things we like to accomplish.”

The partnership will also include two student-run branch Gesa locations on the Pullman campus, at the Compton Union Building and The Spark.

The credit union will also make specially designed WSU debit and credit cards for Gesa members, with donations going to the Cougar Athletic Fund every time cards are used.

Miller, a WSU alum, didn’t share specifics when it came to a dollar amount the CAF would receive when the cards are swiped.

“I’m probably not at liberty to share those details today, but it is on the debit card side, it’s a per transaction,” Miller said. “So, every time it’s swiped, we will be carving out a donation that will come back to the (CAF). And on the credit card side, it’s per card. So if a card is issued, there’s an amount we will go ahead and make that donation as well.”

Chun’s fundraising fortitude helped the Cougars rake in record donations during his initial two years at WSU.

He has long stated an interest in seeking out corporate sponsorship to beef up the department’s financial profile.

Three years ago, multiple reports indicated the school was exploring a corporate sponsorship with Seattle-based creamery Darigold that included Martin Stadium and/or field naming rights, but the deal never panned out.

“These are complex. We’ve had conversations with a multitude of potential sponsors, but none like Gesa, none as serious as Gesa,” Chun said. “None that we felt like, when I presented it to president (Kirk) Schulz, one that we could all feel comfortable with that this is the right company for us to go down this road.”

The decadelong sponsorship deal comes at a critical time for the athletic department, which has forfeited multiple revenue sources, such as ticket sales, concessions and parking, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last fall, WSU announced a wave of cost-cutting measures including layoffs, furloughs and temporary salary reductions.

“To have the revenue certainty over the next 10 years is important to Washington State and does provide a little flexibility once we’re up and running,” Chun said. “But really the biggest variable in place for us going forward is going to be, what does attendance look like in the fall for Washington State?”