Monday, April 02, 2007

The other day I was searching through TicketMaster, hoping to find some interesting shows coming up. I ended up on some national pages, so I was viewing venues across the country, and their offerings. It took a minute, but I eventually noticed that the theaters, arenas, and other centers all looked way too…too, oh what’s the word – stupid.

U.S. Airways Center? American Airlines? Continental? Are these bloody airports or entertainment venues? How about the Allstate and Nationwide Arenas? Sure, it’s a sign of the times, commerce, capitalism; all those things that make the world go ‘round, I Get That. But surely there has to be a line drawn somewhere?

Seeing these names, Verizon, Xcel, RBC, 1st Mariner, and Dunkin Donuts? – I am left feeling as I just consumed too many donuts and washed them down with sugary Pepsi (yet another center in Denver). I feel ill and a victim of over consumption. Just who the consumer is – is unclear.

Here in New England, two of our major sports centers were totally rebuilt, and renamed. It took a long time to get used to changing the name of The Boston Garden to the Fleet Center. But Bostonians got used to it eventually; having a large center named after a bank wasn’t that bad. And we got used to Gillette Stadium replacing Foxboro, (even though the stadium was still in Foxboro). But although Fenway Park could use some refurbishing, I can’t imagine the uproar in on Lansdowne Street if that piece of history was renamed.

As I continued my perusal of TicketMaster’s offerings, it was refreshing to see familiar names such as Dodger, Giants and Dolphins Stadiums still surviving. But McAfee Coliseum? Is this for real? Oh sure, they still call it “The Coliseum”, and ignore the McAfee, (or previously Network Associates Coliseum – which they just called “the Net”), but what was wrong with the original Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for a name, besides being a little unwieldy, it made sense, for crying out loud.

A few years back, I wrote this piece on professional sports and renaming rights as part of a larger chapter on sports in the U.S.

“In the “old days” athletes might indeed stay on a team for the length of their career, much like in any employment situation of the same era - you stayed with your company until retirement. Things changed though. A new reality surfaced and many fans wondered if the ‘bottom line’ was becoming more important than the goal line. The last few decades in sports have seen players signing contracts worth millions of dollars, huge ticket increases, labor strikes, and corporate marketing that seemed to jeopardize what sports used to mean.

Gone were the days of The Boston Garden, Candlestick Park and Jack Murphy Stadium. Those revered old institutions were replaced with The Fleet Center, 3Com Park, and Qualcomm Stadium. True, these older ballparks or arenas were aging and not as structurally sound as they used to be. But what these and many other cities gained in new shiny new stadiums, they also gained in corporate labeling.

Re-naming rights were a bitter pill for fans to swallow. They sometimes fought back however, like the citizens of Denver, CO., to stop the renaming of their much-loved “Mile High Stadium” to “Invesco Field at Mile High”. Though the name was eventually changed to Invesco, even the Denver Post newspaper had stated reluctance to use it in their sports reporting.

In more recent years though, those cash-rich companies started to fade, as the expenditures of owning sports stadiums wreaked havoc on balance sheets. The Walt Disney Co. who - in their search for the elusive business synergy - had purchased both the Angels baseball team, and established the NHL’s Mighty Ducks. Hoping for tie-ins from merchandising and film projects, Disney’s plan lasted about five years. Since revenues did not meet expectations, they have now since sold the Angels to an Arizona businessman for the bargain price of $183.5 million and would like to sell the Ducks as well.

The sale of the Angels illustrates a change in the business of professional sports. As corporations not only had to answer to fans, players and coaches, they also had to answer to shareholders. Recently both business and sports analysts have reported on the trend of teams returning to family ownership. This makes American fans happier, enforcing what they love so much about sports.”

I fear most times I am the simpleton, not fully aware of the ways of the world, not savvy about sustainable competitive advantages, aware of aggressive advertising strategies or a brainiac about branding. But I’ve learned a thing or two about greed and avarice.

Corporate renaming of all these big beautiful venues smacks of both.