SOLOMON: The Case for Corporate-Given Names
A public-interest group is urging sportswriters to resist a free-enterprise wave of the future. "Corporations are seizing the names of our beloved parks and stadiums, and replacing these with their own," Commercial Alert complains in a letter that has just arrived at newspaper offices across North America. The organization adds: "There is no law that says that you have to call a sports venue what a big corporation wants you to call it."
In recent years, several dozen companies have bought major-league naming rights. Baseball teams now play in Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay), Bank One Ballpark (Phoenix), Coors Field (Denver), Network Associates Coliseum (Oakland), Pacific Bell Park (San Francisco) and Safeco Field (Seattle). Pro basketball games are happening at branded sites from Continental Airlines Arena in northern New Jersey to American Airlines Arena in Miami to Arco Arena in Sacramento. Football and hockey are in the same groove.
A decade ago, we might have been very surprised to see the Washington Redskins playing host to gridiron foes at a place called FedEx Field. Today -- "to help us stop the commercial degradation of sports" -- Commercial Alert wants sportswriters and fans to call stadiums "by their nicknames, not corporate names." But such advice runs counter to the current momentum.
The logic of auctioning off the rights to name public places is often remarkable. For instance, your local library system might be called the Starbucks Public Library or the Random House of Books. This would guard against tax levies and prevent the need to increase library fines or charge admission.
Likewise, museums that drain the U.S. Treasury could pay their own way. One day, we might matter-of-factly refer to the Smithsonian Burger King Museum. And private cultural institutions could also balance their books while participating in the entrepreneurial renaissance. New York's famed Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art could become Nike Museum and the Exxon Mobil Museum of Art.
Children who go to public school now routinely wear shirts without paying attention to the values of the dollar. Instead of freeloading their way through childhood with some kind of anachronistic nod to a welfare state, students could meet taxpayers partway by submitting to the discipline of wearing t-shirts with specified commercial logos, as per contracts negotiated between school districts and corporations.
Given the importance of wiping out vestiges of New Deal sentimentalism, Social Security could be named something like the Citibank of America System. Other public-sector naming rights could be opened to competitive bids. And because the goal of reducing taxes runs parallel to a multitude of privatization options, it would be shortsighted to bypass a potentially great source of federal revenues -- the renaming of monuments.
The magnificent marble shrines dedicated to our third and sixteenth presidents could draw capitalization from aesthetically minded firms that wish to combine reverence for heritage with promotion of their cutting-edge technologies. How about the Jefferson/Cisco Memorial and the Lincoln/Microsoft Memorial?
The Pfizer drug conglomerate would pay a pretty penny for a multi-year lease on the Washington Monument's naming rights. "The Viagra Monument" might sound strange at first but soon could roll off millions of tongues as easily as "FedEx Field."
Then there's the Capitol Building. A tasteful sign across the front facade might identify the national legislature as the U.S./AOL Time Warner Congress. To defray some of the governmental operating costs that burden every working American, both chambers could bear additional names such as the Disney Senate and the Viacom House of Representatives. Nearby, the General Electric Supreme Court might serve us well.
Meanwhile, rather than allowing the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to continually deplete the public coffers, any president with a bipartisan spirit would be pleased to live in the AT&T White House, honoring a firm that has given millions to both the Democratic and Republican parties. And there are plenty of other opportunities to gain top dollar from the corporate community.
So, let's start getting used to the kind of news broadcasts that we can learn to accept as perfectly normal: "Speaking in the Dow Chemical Rose Garden today, the president called on the AOL Time Warner Congress to boost appropriations for the Merrill Lynch Kodak Defense Department. The Secretary of McDonald's State urged full appropriations for the Fox Dreamworks Space Weapons Station and added that further deployment of Philip Morris nuclear missiles will be necessary in order to safeguard the security of the United States of Archer Daniels Midland America ... "
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His books include "The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."