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Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2014

Basic Biittner: What's in a name?

Thursday, August 3, 2006

The Cherokee Braves baseball team recently played in the State Tournament in Des Moines, held at the beautiful home of the Iowa Cubs minor league team, Principal Park. Principal Park was formerly known as Sec Taylor Stadium, named in honor of a long-time sports writer for the Des Moines Register.

The stadium is now named after one of Des Moines' largest businesses - which, I'm guessing, paid a pretty penny for that right. This situation illustrates a growing trend in sports over the last few years - that of companies purchasing "naming rights."

According to the Wikipedia encyclopedia, naming rights are "the right to name a piece of property, either tangible property or an event, usually granted in exchange for financial considerations."

Naming things after people goes back many years, of course. Many towns around here, for example, were named for local railroad officials or their families, though I don't think there was any money involved in that decision. Both Times Square and Herald Square in New York City, for example, were named for local newspapers. Wrigley Field in Chicago was named for the Wrigley chewing gum company, and so on.

I certainly understand the rich and famous wanting things named after themselves or their companies, and I also understand the grateful recipients of their largesse wanting to show their gratitude by bestowing their benefactor's name on their building or event.

However - I, for one - and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way - have had it up to here with this practice in the world of sports.

It seemed to start with the college football bowl games. In my mind, the only "real" college football bowl games (played on New Year's Day, of course) are the Rose, Orange, Cotton, and Sugar Bowls. All but the Rose Bowl now have the corporate sponsor's name attached to the bowl name, but I don't think anyone, other than the network broadcasting the game, refers to the games as the "FedEx Orange Bowl," "Nokia Sugar Bowl," etc.

Twenty-one of the 28 (yes, 28!) current bowl games are now named after corporate sponsors., and some sponsors have literally taken on the name of the bowl itself - such as the Outback Bowl and my personal "favorite," the insight.com Bowl - or should that be bowl?

I feel if the bowls are going to insist on naming their games after corporate sponsors, they should at least find a sponsor who's a "good fit" for their game. How about the "Sunkist Orange Bowl," for example? Or perhaps the "FTD Rose Bowl," or the "Crystal Sugar Bowl." The Rose Bowl is also known as the "Granddaddy of the Bowls," so maybe they should pursue sponsorship by Depends or Viagra.

My point is - quit messing around with the name of the game! People who don't get up and go to the bathroom at every commercial break will see what company is sponsoring the game when their ads run.

Then there's the issue of naming stadiums and arenas. The name Wrigley Field made sense when the Wrigley Company actually owned the Cubs, who play their home games there. Busch Stadium in St. Louis was named for the Cardinals' long-time owner, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. When they opened their new stadium this season, though, they also named the new stadium Busch Stadium - though the brewery sold the team ten years ago. Shea Stadium is named after a New York attorney, William Shea, who was the individual most responsible for bringing National League baseball back to New York City after the Dodgers and Giants left.

In recent years, ballparks and arenas are being named after companies who pay a lot of money for the "naming rights." One need look no further than Sioux City for a couple of examples of this practice (no, I'm not talking about Lewis and Clark Park!)

The classic case is that of the Houston Astros. When they moved out of the Astrodome into their new park a few years ago, the new field was called Enron Park. When Enron went belly-up, the Astros negated their naming rights, and the park became Minute Maid Park. The San Francisco Giants' ballpark is not very old, but that park, too, has already had two names because of sponsorship changes. Finally, the Bank One Ballpark ("BOB") in Phoenix is now named Chase Field, because Chase and Bank One merged.

Personally, I feel that stadiums should be named after their primary tenants, as Yankee and Dodger Stadiums are. The new baseball stadium just approved in Minnesota, for example, would simply be "Twins' Stadium."

If a company wants to help support a team through advertising in the game program, web site, or on an outfield or backstop sign - fine, go for it!

Just leave the stadium names alone.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner