From The “Everybody Does It” Files: “Welcome to Chico’s Bail Bonds Park!”

Bad News Bears

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.]

39 thoughts on “From The “Everybody Does It” Files: “Welcome to Chico’s Bail Bonds Park!”

  1. I am with you 110% on this one. The demolition of the House the Babe built still weighs on me. Watching Jeter hit it in over the Green Monster at FENWAY will glow with me forever.

    I will never set foot in “Dunkin Donuts Park” in Hartford (sadly that is a lie, but I won’t be rooting for the “Yard Goats” – I keep picturing a bunch of goats in the outfield eating stale donuts.). New Britain is home to both New Britain and Beehive Stadiums. New Britain Stadium, a dignified stadium abandoned by the Rock Cats for “Dunkin”. The city will now be home to the Bees, both the team and stadium or the New Britain’s busy “bees” working in all the former factories.

    Beehive Stadium was home to Roger Clemens when he pitched for the NB Red Sox (the only Sox, save maybe Pawtucket MCCOY stadium – home of the longest game in professional baseball.) So much of Baseball is tied up in the lore of the names and places and idiosyncrasies of stadiums. And when teams turn their back on their lore, like the “Yard Goats”, or the PawSox new owners moving them to Providence, die hard fans turn their backs harder.

  2. No, being somewhat of a baseball fan I don’t really care if Dodger Stadium changes it’s name to Taco Bell Stadium. As long as the players are not forced to wear patches all over them like the NASCAR drivers do.

  3. Jack,
    Not sure I agree. I look at the Busch family in St. Louis. I think they have a field named after them. They might also have a hospital, an endowed chair in some college named after them.

    You have defended, if I recall, names on philanthropic projects (colleges, hospitals, etc.). How are naming rights different? Is it the philanthropic aspect? The marketing aspect? The amount of money involved? Intent?

    -Jut

    • August Anheuser “Gussie” Busch, Jr. (March 28, 1899 – September 29, 1989) built the Anheuser-Busch Companies into the largest brewery in the world by 1957 as company chairman from 1946 to 1975. He became a prominent sportsman as owner of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise in Major League Baseball from 1953 until his death in 1989. The Cardinals inducted him into the team Hall of Fame in 2014. Calling the stadium Busch is like the Red Sox naming its stadium after Tom Yawkee. The corporation is incidental, as with Wrigley Field. The name embodies history and tradition. It’s not quid pro quo, paid for as a promotion.

        • There’s no parallel. I raised money for a law school. We didn’t sell the school’s buildings for ten year naming rights. Nobody does. A donor pays a substantial part of the cost to build something, and it carries the name forever. Donors and companies buy theater seats, but even those will never be sold again. But the tradition of re-naming famous or important structures after companies who pay an advertising cost just doesn’t exist. Why? Well. a lot of the original names were dictated by legal documents, and there would be lawsuits. But mainly, as desperate as they are for cash, educational institutions have some honor left. They also depend on alumni. If Harvard sold the naming rights to Widener Library, named after a boy who died on the Titanic, there would be a revolt.

  4. Jack isn’t this just (“just” not trying to put it down, just in perspective) an extension of the re-naming trend, replacing revered as well as lesser known historical names with new, hip, forget-tradition, Moneybags. The latest one I heard of is the trademarking of “Yosemite” by a concessioner of the national park, DNCY, in all: “DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. (DNCY), a subsidiary of the Delaware North Companies”. The re-naming in this case, had to be done by the park, so as not to infringe on the concessioner’s rights.

    • The “re-naming” referred to is not of the park itself, but of several “iconic buildings and landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places”. Yosemite National Park is safe for the time being.

      I vote for renaming two of the following: Illinois, Indiana, Idaho or Iowa. People get the names confused. That’s not right.

  5. Phoenix’s ball park was originally Bank One Ballpark. It was known as “The BOB.” When J.P. Morgan Chase bought Bank One, they began calling it Chase Field. I’d have preferred “The Morg[ue].”

    • My brother’s ten and under team had the brain teaser “Edge Cordage” emblazoned on their t-shirts. What a mysterious thing to have on a baseball uniform – bizarre, rhyming word fragments. Took me years to break the code. The team was sponsored by a rope dealer (there were lots of boatyards in the area, near the Miami River) named, apparently, Mr. Edge. I’m assuming that was his given last name. Mr. Edge must have proudly named his company “Edge Cordage.” Ah for the days when “branding” was a do-it-yourself endeavor.

      • And I doubt a movie could include the Chico’s Bail Bonds gag in a movie today. Clearly a slur against Mexican Americans. Or maybe cultural appropriation. It’s hard to keep the offenses properly sorted.

        • “For those of you scoring at home, that’s scored ‘ethic slur,’ not ‘cultural appropriation.’ We’ll be right back here at the ball park after this word from our friends at Taco Bell.”

    • If the naming was forever, I’d have less objection to it. “The Bob” was a great nickname, like “the Jake” in Cleveland; “The Great American Ballpark” works without the company tie in. But in ten years, it will be called something else.

      • I chuckled. I wonder how much the Bernieites would twitch knowing that some of the largest corporate owners are union trust funds.

        “Corporations should make less money.” Cool story, just tell your union you can hold off retirement for a year or five.

        • And CalPers and those other pension fund outfits were the biggest buyers of oil futures when GS was saying oil was going to $150 a barrel. While GS was shorting oil, of course.

      • Way to overreact there, and make judgement that I’m a Sanders supporter. I’m not, and I have some small investments. There’s a LOT of dytopian SF, including the biggest name of Philip K Dick, where corporations have replaced/removed government. (It’s an old thought experiment) Those are no more happy worlds than worlds where there are no inventors and businesses.

  6. I completely agree with you on this. If a corporation wants their name on baseball park or a stadium , let them pay to have it built.

  7. The Red Sox have far more exotic ways of prostituting themselves via “The official (fill in the blank) of the Boston Red Sox.” You can have surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess and have the surgical staff with a Red Sox insignia on their caps. If there is a way to “brand” the Red Sox have found it and exploited it to the nth degree.

  8. It’s the same with civic centers, etc. If you are looking for tickets to see someone in concert, you can no longer know the locations by the name of the venue. You’re like, “Okay, where the heck is that?”. Of course, some of the larger ones are held in mysteriously named stadiums as well. Sad.

    • A few years ago, the XL Center got a handmedown score board from the Staples Center. I had no idea where the scoreboard came from… or where it went.

      (It came from Los Angeles and went to the former Hartford Civic Center)

  9. Two great naming failures: The Patriots field was known as CMGI before that company had a slight downfall. The joke was it stood for “Can’t Make Good Investments.” The second was Minute Maid Park (a great venue) was originally Enron Field.

  10. As I am anxiously awaiting the start of this season, you hit on a subject that has also been on my mind. The single A Orioles farm club play in my home town at the Harry Grove stadium. The stadium is owned by the city of Frederick, but was named after a prominent member of the community whose heirs donated $250,000 to help build the stadium with the understanding that it would be named, “Harry Grove stadium’.

    In 2013, the city wanted to monetize the naming rights of the stadium they owned, but had the small problem of already having sold the naming rights to the Grove family. So they sold the naming rights to the field. If you can fucking believe it, the official name of the home of the Frederick Keys is, ‘Nymeo Field at Harry Grove stadium’. I am sure you can guess which entity gets the larger portion of the signage…

    • Yecchh. That reminds me of the Jack Murphy Stadium disgrace in SD, where the honor given to the sportswriter credited with saving the franchise was sold off to the highest bidder, Qualcomm

  11. In Seattle, after the Kingdome was demolished (before getting paid) the Mariners got Safeco Field – local company, not too blatant, ok with it and it still has that name.

    The Seahawks got Sehawks Stadium, and when the rights were sold to Qwest the company was not allowed to paint their name on the roof. Due to local ordinances they had to have some office or the like in order to use the building as a billboard. And now there’s a phone store in the stadium. :/

  12. Seven U.S. states were named for kings or queens, and a fair number of cities as well, with the blatant goal of securing some political patronage. You may not like the practice, and I may agree, though I can’t say I care a bit about sports in general and baseball in particular, but the practice is probably more “American” than apple pie or baseball, or at least has a longer history. I also don’t see any difference about whether the money is a donation provided up front or an annual fee or whatever. As long as both parties are in agreement, I think it is ethical. Tasteless is more subjective. What I don’t get is this idea that a team has a relationship with a city or area, or the whole fan thing at all. Why should I care about a few people I don’t know playing a game. I do or have enjoyed playing a few games, but watching someone else is boring. Baseball on the other hand is too boring to even play, though as I say, tastes differ. I enjoy reading economics books and that certainly isn’t for everyone, so I don’t begrudge anyone time or money spent on such things, though it irks me when my tax money is spent on it.

    • Allow me to unpack this:

      Seven U.S. states were named for kings or queens, and a fair number of cities as well, with the blatant goal of securing some political patronage.

      Irrelevant. Nothing to do with the post.

      “You may not like the practice, and I may agree, though I can’t say I care a bit about sports in general and baseball in particular,”

      So as long as you don’t care about a particular practice, that makes it ethical in your eyes? Assignment” find the rationalization on the list that this embodies.

      “but the practice is probably more “American” than apple pie or baseball, or at least has a longer history.”

      “Everybody does it.”

      “I also don’t see any difference about whether the money is a donation provided up front or an annual fee or whatever.”

      What matters is what is being branded, how much prostitution of values and identity it requires, and the benefits, if any, to stakeholders.

      “As long as both parties are in agreement, I think it is ethical.”

      In a closed system that may be right. Sports teams carry the names of cities, states and communities, and it is NOT closed. How about the Archdiocese of Boston, or child molestation central, paying for naming rights of Fenway Park. Do you think non-Catholics have a legitimate complaint with that, or is it just between the Sox and Cardinal Law?

      “Tasteless is more subjective.”

      Agreed, and public institutions have an obligation to consider that subjectivity.

      What I don’t get is this idea that a team has a relationship with a city or area, or the whole fan thing at all. Why should I care about a few people I don’t know playing a game.

      This is your problem. Lots of people, Id guess most, do get it. The fact that it makes no difference to you doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.

  13. I wrote about this a while back on another article, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

    It’s not just the issue of money changing hands to sell something that should not be sold–or worse, rented. It’s that places need to have permanent names so that people know where they are–and so that people don’t get confused over thinking that two names which refer to the same place are NOT, in fact, two different places.

    –Dwayne

  14. I sympathize and empathize. It’s as if we no longer recognize the virtue and values of honor, tradition, community, and (as Dwayne N. Zechman comments) knowing where the hell it is that we are. The means (putting one’s name on a stadium) does not justify the end (gaining more profit). Substituting profit as an end for what we really want (happiness in the eudaimonic sense) will always lead to poor decisions.

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