If it’s an entertainment venue with a corporate name on it, most likely your tax dollars and mine built it, and a corporation bought the naming rights to it for almost gratis advertising for a minute fraction of that facility’s construction and maintenance costs.
This trend dates further than most realize. For example, Wrigley Field in Chicago was named in the 1920s by Philip Wrigley, owner of both Wrigley’s Chewing Gum and the Cubs at that time.
But, it was more subtle. In the 1960s, when the Busch family of Anheuser-Busch, owners of the St. Louis Cardinals, wanted to rename Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis after Budweiser, MLB nixed the proposal. The park became Busch Stadium, and A-B then launched the Busch brand of beer.
Let’s take a look at six of the most egregious invasions of our space by Corporate America, who “tags” our entertainment with their graffiti.
1. Let’s go Bowling!
It’s January 1. It’s 1940. All of the bowl games were played on New Year’s Day. All five of them.
They were the Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange and Sun bowls, and none of them had corporate sponsorships.
Now, there are 38 Bowl Championship Series games, and almost all of them have corporate names. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is played at the University of Phoenix Stadium, named after a for-profit online university with no physical plant, much less a football team.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a movement for truth in advertising.
How about when two schools you never heard of meet in a bowl game you never heard of in December in a city you’ve never heard of in a game of legitimate interest only to immediate families and NFL scouts, just call it the Degenerate Gambler Bowl?
2. Closer to Home
The arena and both stadiums in downtown Cleveland were paid for exclusively by the taxpayers of our region. The team owners paid nothing for construction, and still only pay minimal rent and maintenance costs.
In the beginning, although naming rights were part of the deal, it wasn’t really that bad. Dick Jacobs owned the Indians, and put his name on the ballpark. The Gund brothers owned the basketball team, and the venue became Gund Arena. Of course the jokes were common over the name, but it was not the advanced stage of the disease that we are now plagued with.
Now, Jacobs Field is Progressive Field. If we had to have naming rights, at least it’s named after a Greater Cleveland company.
Gund Arena became Quicken Loans Arena, after Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s corporation. Remember the real estate bust of 2007, which partially begat the Great Recession?
Quicken Loans shares some DNA with poster children for that bust Countrywide and Home 1-2-3.
Maybe the worst of the bunch is FirstEnergy Stadium.
There were many reasons behind our region’s industrial decline of the 1970s and 1980s, but one of them was the cost of electricity, with both residential and industrial rates among the highest in the United States.
Remember the Blackout of 2003, with almost half the population of the United States and much of Canada without power?
The guilty party has its name on our stadium.
3. Citi Field, New York
Another culprit in the Crash of 2008 was Wall Street, and Citibank was one of the major players. Citigroup, as it is known now, signed up to pay $20 million a year for 20 years to put its name on the home of the New York Mets.
Have a Citi card? You’re not only paying for exorbitant executive salaries when you swallow the interest; you’re paying for the privilege of having your nose rubbed in it when you read the sports section.
4. PSINet Stadium, Baltimore
What was PSINet? It was an early ISP, which never made a profit. After the tech bust of the millennium, it went bankrupt in 2002.
That still did not stop it from paying $100 million to name the new home of the Baltimore Ravens, who used to be…. (never mind).
The only solace we got here was a more phonetic pronunciation of The House Corporate Welfare Built For Art Modell.
I called it “piss in it stadium.”
5. Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville
Remember Adelphia Cable? Founded by the Rigas brothers, Adelphia Communications spread its tentacles from its beginnings in Coudersport, Pennsylvania all the way to Los Angeles before the brothers looted the company, which had grown to become publicly traded.
The carcass of Adelphia was divided between Time Warner Cable and Comcast, giving much of America even more reason to be angry about naming the Tennessee Titans’ new digs after Adelphia, which had an extremely minor presence in the market it put its name on.
When Adelphia could no longer pay for naming rights in its 2002 bankruptcy, of course someone else bought the naming rights to the stadium.
Brothers John and Timothy Rigas were sentenced to 13 and 20 years in Federal prison, respectively.
6. Enron Field, Houston
It’s now called Minute Maid Park. When the previous name applied, it was called many other things.
Enron controlled oil and gas transmission, electricity and a bunch of other stuff before the smartest guys in the room drove the company off of the cliff, along with the lives of their 20,000 employees.
The spike in energy costs on the West Coast around 2000? Thanks, Enron.
Extra Point: Thirty Pieces of Silver
That’s what Judas Iscariot sold Jesus out for.
Thirty pieces of silver would not even be a down payment on a respectable used car these days.
I reside in a NIMBY area. Not In My Back Yard.
A library? Build it yesterday. A prison or a landfill? Not In My Back Yard!
Well, this insidious corporate graffiti has just befouled my back yard, and I’m pissed. And there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. Until the next election for school board.
God, grant me the serenity.
In the 2000s, voters narrowly approved a bond issue to renovate and/or replace the high school outdoor athletic facilities here. First, of course, came the replacement of the dilapidated 3,000-seat football field with a new 5,000-seat stadium.
The video screen on the scoreboard? Never completed. The new baseball field? Sorta kinda. The new tennis courts? We’re still waiting. Budget shortfalls, you know?
So, here come corporate naming rights to my back yard. Summa Health Systems of Akron just dropped 495,000 pictures of George Washington on the school system, which will see 420,000 of those pictures after commission paid to a sports marketing firm to rename the project the “Summa Health Nordonia High School Athletic Complex.”
It’s a nine-year deal. Each year, the schools get just shy of $46,667, which might be a down payment on one of this area’s McMansions.
What does Summa get? Not only the naming rights to the outdoor athletic facilities, but the high school’s circa-1960 gym will be known as Summa Health Arena. The auditorium, built at the same time, will be the Summa Health Performing Arts Center.
Summa Health also wants a lighted billboard facing Ohio 8, which carries tens of thousands of cars daily, pending approval from the state and the City of Macedonia.
Also, Summa will get four press box announcements at every major or minor sporting event, all the way down to tennis, volleyball and lacrosse. All tickets sold to any events will also be tagged with Summa’s corporate graffiti.
High school sucked enough without this when I went. And, what business does a corporate “non-profit” entity have inserting its tentacles into the lives of 1,350 students on a daily basis? The morning announcements would scar me for life.
A few years ago, Beyoncé sang “If you want it then you’d better put a ring on it.”
Summa wanted it and put a ring on it.
And Nordonia got fucked.