The Washington Nationals announced this week that it has partnered with Major League Baseball Advanced Media and the consulting firm Korn Ferry to sell naming rights to Nationals Park, as the team’s home field has been known since it opened in 2008.
After all, the team explains, plastering a corporation’s name on the ballpark could add between ten and twenty million dollars a year to the team’s revenue, and imagine how much better the team will be with another starting pitcher or slugging outfielder. Why wouldn’t a team sell its home’s name, and a large chunk of its identity, to a bank, a website, or a pet supplies company?
I admit it: being a life-time fan of the Boston Red Sox, who play in one of the the ten major league parks ( the others: Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park, Kauffman Stadium, Marlins Park, Nationals Park, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Turner Field, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium ) belonging to teams that have not accepted filthy lucre to mar their stadium entrances with the names of companies Bernie Sanders would hate, I find the idea revolting. A baseball team represents its community; its lore becomes part of the culture and shared memories passed downfthrough generations.. That has value, and symbolic significance. How much is it worth? It’s priceless, or should be.
Baseball teams make a lot of money, and the game’s credibility and public image still depend on fans believing that it is more than just another business. Stadiums like Globe Life Park in Arlington, Minute Maid Park, Petco Park and U.S. Cellular Field remind me of the Bad News Bears wearing uniforms with “Chico’s Bail Bonds” on their backs. How crass. How commercial. How ugly.
I know, I know: “How American.” Somehow I harbored fantasies that the team in the nation’s capital would stand up for the game’s traditions and roots, with a stadium named for a community figure who made the team’s existence possible (like the Mets’ previous stadium, named after local lawyer Bill Shea, who brought the National League back to the Big Apple) or a team owner who rebuilt the franchise (Jacobs Field, originally named after the owners who rescued a dying franchise, now named Progressive Field, after Flo, I guess…), or even something dignified, related to a local landmarks, or even the team itself, like Yankee Stadium
That’s unrealistic, I am told, because everybody is taking a bundle to make their teams’ parks into giant billboards, and values like gratitude, respect for tradition and history, and dignity won’t stand up to a big enough check if it’s offered. “Priceless” can still be bought out for the right price.
The fans don’t seem to care. Maybe I’m the only one who does. Maybe it’s good for kids to learn that corporations have to turn everything into marketing and promotion, and that baseball teams will never let dignity, tradition and decorum stand in the way of a fast buck.
If the Houston Astros being saddled with the name “Enron Field” for a full season after the criminal corporation went belly-up didn’t kill this trend, nothing will.
Values will always be sold out, and besides, everybody does it.
[ADDENDUM: I wrote a similar post six years ago when the adultery website Ashley Madison tried to by the naming rights to the NFL Giant’s stadium. At least I’m consistent.]