Pro Sports Arenas Need More Corporate Sponsors Because This Is Getting Boring

If we're gonna do this, let's at least do it right.
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It’s April 4 and you’re in San Francisco, out with some friends, and one of them mentions having tickets to the game tomorrow. Do you want to go? Great, you’ll just meet up at Oracle, then.

You wake up the next day and can’t remember exactly what you agreed to, just that you’re supposed to meet up at Oracle. But which one? The Warriors play the Cavaliers at Oracle Arena that night in Oakland, but the Giants’ home opener is set for the afternoon at Oracle Park in San Francisco, which opened as Pacific Bell Park in 2000, changed to SBC Park in 2004, and had been AT&T Park from 2006 until Wednesday.

You live in 2019 and not an episode of Seinfeld, so you just text your friend and find out what sport you’re seeing, what city the game is in, and what time you’re supposed to go. Maybe it’s an Oracle doubleheader, as the Giants play the Rays in the afternoon and the Warriors take the court at night.

This won’t be an issue in the Bay Area for long, because this fall, the Warriors will move to their new arena in San Francisco, the Chase Center, not to be confused with Chase Field, the Phoenix home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The ship has long since sailed on the morality of naming rights forcing people to refer to corporations just in the course of giving directions or talking about where they saw something. It’s not limited to sports, either, as you can see a Broadway show at the American Airlines Theatre, just as you can see the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena or the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. There’s even money to be made in the backlash to this bit of corporate invasion of the culture, as shown by the vast selection of “Naming Wrongs” t-shirts available for purchase.

The world may not be fully aware of those shirts, but the spirit is out there, given the volume of “I still call it Pac Bell” tweets reacting to the Oracle news, and that’s where the real 2019 argument about naming rights kicks in.

It sure must be nice for executives at a company to be able to show off their name on a sporting facility and enjoy the benefits that come along with it, be it luxury boxes or getting to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. But are they really getting any value out of it for their companies?

Take Guaranteed Rate Field – formerly U.S. Cellular Field, formerly Comiskey Park – the home of the Chicago White Sox. On the one hand, putting their name on a baseball stadium made Guaranteed Rate a nationally-known entity. On the other hand, it made Guaranteed Rate a laughingstock, not only for the name itself, but for their logo, a giant red arrow pointing down.

If purchasing naming rights is just a vanity play, there are worse ways to spend money. If it’s about getting value, there are plenty of downsides beyond being the subject of mockery. When the team that plays in the stadium you named stinks, you get to be associated with that poor performance. When the concession stands fail health inspections, your company’s name is in the headline about it. Terrible things don’t even have to happen at the stadium for the corporate name to be invoked. Or, worst case, your company can be decimated by scandal, with the ballpark naming remaining in memory as a monument to corporate failure.

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