The Name Game

Time for another report from the "Wide, Wide, Wide, Wild World of Sports!"

Today's feature: Where are we? I don't mean where does your team rank in the standings. In today's corporatized sports world, the question of "Where are we?" is a literal one – as in, what city are we in? Stadiums, arenas, and so forth no longer bear recognizable names, but instead are branded with corporate logos that are Anywhere and Nowhere, USA.

For example, SBC. What the hell is it? It's the nondescript logo of a telephone company that stretches from Texas to Michigan to California. So, if you're at SBC Park, where are you? The San Francisco Giants, recently sold the name of their ballpark to this Anyplace Corporation. There's also the SBC Center. Where are you? At the arena of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team? In either case, SBC's bland corporate logo tells you nothing about the team or the city – it's just another symbol for corporate money.

Ameriquest Field, FedEX Forum, Pepsi Center, American Airlines Arena, Wachovia Center, Invesco Field, Reliant Stadium, Nationwide Arena, M&T Bank Stadium, Staples Center, Philips Arena – where are we?

In pro sports, more than half of the facilities (mostly built with taxpayer funds) now have corporate names plastered all over them. The corporations have paid $3.6 billion to team owners to put their brands on these places – money that, believe it or not, is tax-deductible for the corporation, so we subsidize the branding.

The corporate rationale is that naming deals are good advertising: "Continually seeing our name," says a spokesman for Petco, which bought the naming rights to the ballpark of the San Diego Padres, "will click with people, and say 'I want to shop there.'"

This is Jim Hightower saying...Oh, yeah, after watching a Padres game on TV, I always say, "I think I'll run out to Petco and buy a rat terrier." This isn't about advertising – it's about CEO ego, about corporations that have more money than brains.

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