Saturday, February 23, 2013

Naming rights go down the slippery slope: a private prison corporation and KFC get slammed (but what about Barclays?)

A lot of people think that naming rights for sports facilities--especially those associated with colleges--can get dicey, but, curiously enough, the Barclays Center, named for a bank with a rather problematic recent ethical record (not just one big fine but two other probes), doesn't get mentioned much.

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins, in her Feb. 21 column headlined Peculiar Naming Rites, wrote:
Auctioning off your motto is nothing, really. We have lived with the sale of naming rights so long that generations of Americans have grown up taking it for granted that it is a fine thing to see your college team end a season by winning the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl. Remember when Houston was stuck with Enron Field in 2001? Embarrassing for a second, but then the city resold the rights to Minute Maid for $170 million. Naming rights: good. Renaming rights: better.

This week Florida Atlantic University announced plans to christen its football stadium in honor of GEO Group, a private prison corporation. “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium,” a critic told Greg Bishop of The Times. Meanwhile, the folks at the University of Louisville are cheering for their basketball teams in the KFC Yum! Center.

Yum! is the parent company of fast-food chains like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. It forked over $13.5 million to imprint the stadium for the next decade. Sandra Kendall, the marketing manager for the center, said the exclamation point was “part of the deal.” The folks in Louisville, she said, do not find this disturbing. 
Among the comments:
Carol Anne, Seattle:
Actually, the naming rights process goes back as far as 1926, when Chicago's Weeghman Park was renamed Wrigley Field.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrigley_Field
Steve, MO:
My favorite is the University of Phoenix stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl. Naming rights bought by a school without a residential campus, much less a football team. Can you spell "for profit"?
JO, Colorado:
Haha. KFC Yum! Center wouldn't be half as good without the exclamation point. What's next? Mr Softee's line of NFL-sanctioned football helmets?
BUT, there is this: whereas sports stadiums once were named after government entities (e.g Denver's Mile High Stadium, and that was well before pot was declared legal) Or for the teams that played in them, we now see evidence in LED moving lightboards of the true extent to which "corporations" have become the power centers of American culture.
In turn, these corporations are controlled by major (not necessarily majority) stockholders intent on maximizing their personal benefit and by CEOs (not necessarily the corps of VPs below doing their bidding) intent on a place at the 1% Table on the 19th green.
Names of stadia are symbols, of course, but important ones, claims to fealty and gratitude. The trend in naming these symbols has a much greater significance than immediately obvious in the humor.

Janet Ellingson, Salt Lake City, Utah:
The arena where the Utah Jazz play (the team moved from New Orleans where the name was appropriate to SLC a long time ago) was once named for Delta Airlines. Now it is the Energy Solutions Arena, named for a not so reputable company that disposes of nuclear waste in Utah's eastern desert. The big donations to the arena were an effort by the corporation to clean up its image.
I was very proud of the faculty of the University of Utah's School of Medicine when they refused many years ago to allow the School to be named after a multi-millionaire who promised to give millions to the School if it was named after him. When the name was a no-go, the money went away.
This act of getting big bucks in exchange for naming rights is a sign of the times. When We The People can no longer finance our public buildings through taxes and sales receipts, we must go to the corporations and the 0.1% that do have the money. It is fortunate that the 0.1% also have tremendous egos that must be fed with naming rights. If we can't get fair corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy, at least we can get their money by giving them a privilege they seem to want. 
Rich, New Haven:
During the stadium and arena construction binge of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the buildings carried the name Veterans Memorial in many cases (i.e., Philadelphia and New Haven). The shift to corporate naming rights speaks much to how we treat public spaces in the 21st century and to the fact that a corporate name commemorates nothing.  
Jonathan, Louisville, Kentucky:
It's stretching a point, exclamation or otherwise, to claim that Louisville residents do not care about the downtown arena being named after a fast-food corporation, but it wouldn't matter if it did disturb us - we didn't have any voice in the matter. As is usually the case with these things, the naming rights were sold by the arena authority to the highest bidder. If the people had had more say, perhaps the name might have had a closer approximation to truth in advertising: perhaps the "Childhood Obesity Epidemic Arena" would have been appropriate. Or perhaps, given Yum! Corporation's iconic KFC brand, we could just call it "The Bucket."
planckmass, New Haven:
In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace took this to it's logically yet absurd conclusion in branded years. They are.
Year of the Whopper
Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
Year of the Yush*tyu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile [sic]
Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
Year of Glad

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