S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 17 November 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Name of the Game

 

[insert, press 'play':]

With the San Diego Padres

playing at Qualcomm Stadium, the

Houston Rockets playing at the

Compaq Center, and the

Oakland-for-now Raiders playing

wherever its owner found his

finger on the map when his meds

kicked in this morning - not to

mention the roughly 6 million

other professional sports teams

playing in buildings named after

corporations that ponied up

silly amounts of cash in

exchange for a few new signs -

the sporting press (such as it

is) is almost audibly humming in

anticipation of the tough, angry

little potshots it'll be taking

when the giants begin to fall. The

Babe, the argument will go,

would roll in his grave if he

knew that the field where he

called his famous shot had been

renamed after an insurance

company.

 

There are some obvious fallacies

in this argument - Babe Ruth

was, for example, much too fat

to spin in the tightly enclosed

space of a grave - and some

reasonable points - the most

obvious being that he would

probably rather have seen

Wrigley Field renamed after a

company that made booze or some

sort of meat product. (It's more

difficult to figure how

baseball's most enduring

personality would have felt

about playing in a brand new

Yankees venue named after Ivana

Trump's cyclically impecunious

ex-husband.)

 

[jets to brazil - king medicine]

But the whole silly reality of

the boom in sports-related,

naming-rights deals won't reach

its most ridiculous point until

a Steinbrenner or a Murdoch

finally overcomes his purity and

takes an eight-figure check from

the half of Microsoft that the

court permits to remain in the

applications business. The

bottom seems to have already

been reached, earlier this year,

in the state that happens to sit

at the bottom of the country.

The Panthers, purportedly a

hockey team of some kind, used

to play in the inelegantly named

Broward County Arena. But not

any more. Business travelers

will want to reserve a rental

car well in advance to protect

themselves against the explosion

that's sure to occur in that

market any day now: The Florida

Panthers now play in the

National Car Rental Center.

This, the press release

explains, is by no means a

coincidence:

 

"We think National provides an
exceptional fit for this
state-of-the-art entertainment
venue," said Alex Muxo,
president of Arena Development
Company. "We're partnering
with an internationally
renowned company, and the
center will offer world class
entertainment, beginning with
international star Celine
Dion, which is consistent with
the Panthers who feature
players from many countries
and compete in an
international sport."

 
Celine Dion! Rental cars! The

Florida Panthers! Assuming that

we don't receive a press release

in the near future announcing

that a professional soccer team

has brokered a stadium deal with

a pizza-delivery franchisee or a

San Fernando Valley muffler

shop, we call the time of death

at 14 July 1998. It's official:

The issue of naming rights for

sports venues has become

entirely irrelevant.

 

Incidentally, the evil corporate

predators - clever bastards that

they are - seem to have already

figured this out; they've long

since moved on. After all, why

waste time and money connecting

your corporate identity to tiny,

formerly Canadian-affiliated

professional ball-tossers when a

few million dollars will

permanently intertwine your

tentacles with the deepest

historical roots of the nation

you're trying to sell to? We

can't say whether we're more

deeply moved by Target's US$6

million sponsorship of the

Washington Monument or by

suburban design icon Ralph

Lauren's $13 million gift for

the repair of the very same

Star-Spangled Banner that caught

Francis Scott Key's attention

back in the days when people

were still using store-brand

paint. Now that the Vietnam Wall

has its own official Web site,

however, we do know that we sure

as heck can't wait to see which

soft-drink manufacturer lines up

first to pay tribute to our

nation's war dead with a subtle

and respectful sponsorship

banner. (Our vote goes to

whichever one has the red,

white, and blue cans.)

 

A few smart businesses are also

working to get out in front of

this curve, buying pieces of

American history before they get

all historic and expensive. Let

someone else spring for naming

rights to stale old Walden Pond:

Honda and Wal-Mart are, quite

literally, blazing trail.

 

Despite its reputation for savvy

deal-making, Wal-Mart may be

getting the less worthwhile

deal; the Arkansas retailer is

among the big companies kicking

in funds for the construction of

a 3,100-mile hiking trail that

will run the length of the

Continental Divide. (Wal-Mart

customers hike?) A story on the

trail project in the Los Angeles

Times notes that some locals

living along the planned route

worry that completion of the

path will bring "tree huggers"

and "cappuccino machines," both

of which turn out to be

code-words for "California

expatriates." But Wal-Mart

obviously wouldn't mind the

extra foot traffic: The

company's name will be all over

the trail signs, which it will

have helped to pay for.

 

[the black heart procession - release my heart]

What Wal-Mart doesn't get for

its investment is a chance to

tell the federal government how

to run the thing. That's just

what Honda does get in exchange

for its investment in the San

Bernardino National Forest.

Along with other environmentally

sensitive companies like

Southern California Edison and

Mitsubishi Cement Corp., Honda

has provided cash contributions

for a new visitor's center and

the restoration of six fire-

watch towers, among other

projects, in exchange for

partial control of the nonprofit

agency overseeing the way the

contributions are spent. Honda's

representative on the board of

directors of the policy-making

San Bernardino Forest

Association, Paul Slavik,

helpfully explained the purpose

of Honda's contributions to a

Times reporter: "We wanted to

develop a business plan for the

forest that would make it

self-sustaining and be a model

that could be exported to the

rest of the country."

 

No kidding. (In more primitive

times, this kind of thing was

called the "domino theory.")

Among the forest activities to

win the enthusiastic support of

the San Bernardino Forest

Association, as if you didn't

see this coming, is ... an

annual off-road race, sponsored

by Honda. Slavik - who is

Honda's US "off-highway vehicle

resources coordinator" - allows

that there are no

representatives of any pesky

"environmental" organizations

helping to make policy for the

forest. "It's strange," he told

the Times, "that we haven't

brought any of them in. But

we've never looked to them, and

I don't recall ever discussing

bringing an environmental group

into the mix."

 

[cat power - you will know him]

Just a thought: Maybe the Forest

Service's collapsing budget -

funds for overseeing recreation

in the most-visited forests have

dropped by 25 percent and more

during the tenure of the

current environmentally

committed administration - is

forcing bad choices on the

people who have to run it. Maybe

they could take a cue from John

Glenn's NASA and convince John

Muir to get back out on the

trail.

 

Considering the transition for

corporate wilderness sponsors

from naming to controlling, we

find ourselves thinking that it

might not be such a bad idea to

go back to school - where

institutional money hunger might

permit a sharp-eyed dealmaker a

chance to broker some

ground-floor contributions for a

cut of the action. If

Blockbuster is willing to pay

$24,000 to the University of

South Florida for the naming

rights to the student center

video lounge, what could the

ceiling possibly be if we could

convince a medical school to

sell a stake in policy-making to

a pharmaceutical company?

 

No, better yet: The Walt

Disney/Riley Weston Center for

Gerontological Medicine. We

wouldn't expect our cut to be

any higher than, say, 10

percent. And we won't worry

about putting our name on

anything. Unless Celine Dion and

the Florida Panthers are willing

to get involved, of course.




courtesy of Ambrose Beers
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





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