IT had been a while since I'd been to a Washington Bullets basketball game. As I drove to the arena, I looked for signs to the ''Capital Center,'' only to be reminded that those days are gone. It is now called the ''USAir Arena.'' The simple name change is called corporate sponsorship, and it's not so simple. It is big money.
Here's how it works. A company pays some place or some thing a large sum to display the company's name or logo. The place or thing does very little, except make sure it continues to be a place or thing of prominence. The company figures the millions it pays is only a fraction of the revenue it will receive from prominent name placement.
Commercialization occurs not only in professional sports, but in college as well. I grew up with fond memories of the New Year's Day college bowl games. I remember all the Rose Bowls, Orange Bowls, and Sugar Bowls. Then some marketing genius concluded that rose peddlers, orange sellers, and cotton pickers were making a fortune off these games. Now an advertiser's dream run amuck leaves our next generation with memories of the Outback Steakhouse Gator Bowl, the IBM/OS2 Fiesta Bowl, and the Poulin Weedeat er Independence Bowl.
Social critics lament that such commercialization will be the downfall of our civilization. I disagree.
As Congress grapples with deficits and budgets, the leadership looks for ways to squeeze fat out of the budget and generate revenue from innovative sources. The federal government should go the way of the sports world: corporatize and commercialize.
Think of it: If USAir pays millions to display its name over an arena that's half empty a few nights a week, imagine what it would pay to have its name over the Capitol or the Supreme Court.
Congress should set an example by selling corporate sponsorship of the House Office Buildings. The Canon House Office Building could become the Canon Copiers House Office Building. Not to be outdone, Xerox would sponsor what was the Longworth building; Konica would buy up the Rayburn building. Or a huge company could buy all three, creating the Microsoft House Office Buildings or the Ronald McDonald Hamburger Complex.
The older, more august and ornate Senate buildings would require names more befitting their place in history. The Richard Brevard Russell Senate Office Building could become the Russell Athletic Wear Senate Office Building. In an attempt to win the favor of the majority party, one company might create the Bob Dole Pineapple Senate Office Building or the Keebler/Nabisco Phil Gramm Crackers complex. Prices could become exorbitant, leading to the Huffington, Perot, and Rockefeller Senate Office Buildings.
The big bonanza will involve naming the Capitol dome. The competition will rival the choosing of the Olympic host city. The clear winner this year would be Nabisco, as long as it flew the flag of its most famous cookie, the Fig Newton.
After incredible strides are made in shrinking the deficit while lowering taxes, the American people will cry out for every branch of government to follow the congressional lead. The president will issue a string of executive orders. What company wouldn't want to have the Tyson Chicken Department of Agriculture or the Merrill Lynch Treasury Department?
The entire Executive Branch will be sold. There will be the RJR/Marlboro Health and Human Services building; the Black and Decker Labor department; the Sony Building of the Federal Communications Commission; the Jack-in-the-Box Food and Drug Administration building; the Exxon Environmental Protection Agency building; and the Nacho Cheese Doritos Congressional Budget Office with its Cool Ranch annex (lots of number-crunching).
The Supreme Court will not be able to resist. The new Taco Bell Taco Supreme Court will have a lot of changes. Major corporations will battle one another for the privilege of having a justice wear their company's logo on his or her robe. The Kansas City Chiefs Chief Justice William Rehnquist will receive the highest number of patches due to his prominence in the middle of the bench.
The coup of the day occurs when Justice Stephen Breyer sports a Ben and Jerry's logo and Justice Anthony Kennedy advertises for Breyers ice cream's new Strawberry Supreme Cream.
Twenty years ago, no one would have believed there would be a bowl game named after a movie rental company, a computer company, or a weed eater. But the idea was born, and capitalism has carried the day. So, when the president gives his State of the Union address later this month, imagine the possibilities. The Sergeant at Arms could announce: ''Mr. Speaker, distinguished guests, the Coca-Cola Company and its 800 independent bottlers are proud to introduce the president of the United States,'' as the Ma rine Corp Band plays ''I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing.''