Why not 'Microsoft.com Yankee Stadium'?

OK, all together now, trash these greedy, self-aggrandizing corporations for putting their tacky names all over our heretofore venerable and tradition-bedecked athletic stadiums, arenas, and games.

There is no defense. In college football, we've had the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl. That may have been the nadir but don't underestimate corporate lack of taste. There's the AXA/Equitable Liberty Bowl, an elegant name. Don't forget the Nokia Sugar Bowl. What's a Nokia?

One of the storied venues, San Francisco's gracefully named Candlestick Park, has become 3Com Park; a new baseball facility is Pac Bell Park. There are plenty of one-night stands in the corporate gloating biz. Example: College football's Fiesta Bowl has been in love with Sunkist, IBM, and now, Tostitos.

Whoa. Don't be so harsh.

The corporate money blitz aimed at purchasing attention isn't sleazy. It's business. America is about business, thankfully.

It's very easy to be critical of the corporate posturing. But it sure thumps the alternatives, including public financing or dramatically higher ticket prices.

Two key points: (1) The easiest thing in the world is to figure out how somebody else should be spending their money; and (2) corporations spend about five times as much on sports as fans.

What prompts new focus on the issue is that Yankee Stadium is getting ready to throw itself into the arms of the highest bidder. OK, XzerUviczantQdkverxik.com Yankee Stadium has a certain lack. But it could cost $200 million if, instead, you'd rather see your name on the door. Besides, we've got PSINet Stadium in Baltimore (which will cost the company as much as $120 million over 20 years) for the football Ravens. And what's so classy about the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl?

Dennis Howard, a sports marketing professor at the University of Oregon, sees nothing wrong with the practice "if corporations derive benefit without compromising the integrity of sport." And, in truth, Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix probably doesn't nip at anybody's integrity.

John A. Hillerich III is president of Hillerich & Bradsby, the company that makes Louisville Slugger bats. His company gave $2 million to get its name on a minor league baseball park in Louisville, Ky. He is not standing around with his chest puffed out. "I don't like it, really," he says. When Yankee Stadium goes corporate, "it will be bad for baseball." Hillerich says he wrote the check only at the behest of the mayor and "we have no intention of promoting it." It was simply to help the city. Plus, it's appropriate, whereas you can make the case the CompUSA Florida Citrus Bowl does go clang and clunk.

Philips Electronics will put up about $185 million over 20 years so the new Atlanta arena will be the Philips Arena. A company executive, Ed Volkwein, insists Philips didn't even like the idea of "slapping our name on a building." But soon Philips viewed it as an "unusual opportunity," full of synergies.

Things don't always go perfectly in the name game. At the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the arena originally was named after former Gov. Brendan Byrne. But along came high-flying Continental Airlines with $29 million in cash over 12 years and the governor's name was taxied to a hangar and covered with a tarp. Byrne was not pleased.

At Ohio State University, the new arena for hoops and hockey was named the Schottenstein Center, after a local discount clothing and furniture family ponied up $12.5 million. It was quickly dubbed The Schott. In Denver, the under-construction Pepsi Center for pro hockey and basketball already is known as The Can, which almost certainly isn't what Pepsi envisioned.

Jacksonville was offered $8 mil over 12 years to name the football stadium "Doktor Fatburn Stadium," after a weight-loss aid. The good taste line has been blurred but not this much. It's called Alltel Stadium.

Anyway, TV has commercials, newspapers have ads, highways have billboards. So don't be so stuffy. William Raabe, a business professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., says "it's the same as Armani dressing the stars on Oscar night so as to sell more gowns and tuxes."

Back at Oregon, Professor Howard asks for one addition to his title: "Could you add that I'm a professor in the James H. Warsaw Sports Marketing Center?"

No can do, professor. Too commercial.

*Send your comments to looneyd@csps.com

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