It’s time for an Official Talking Baseball Quiz.
1. Where is Ameriquest Field?
2. What does the Great American Insurance Company have to do with baseball?
3. What is the name of the stadium in which the Oakland Athletics play baseball?
If you are like the average baseball fan, I would imagine your answers were something like this: I have no idea, nothing, and the Oakland Coliseum.
Sadly, in this era of corporate naming rights, you would completely wrong. (For the real answers, just keep reading.) Non-descript corporate sponsorship names have taken over once-great stadium names, and in my opinion – my stuffy, traditionalist opinion – it’s getting to be a bit ridiculous.
At the end of last week, the San Francisco Giants announced that they would now be playing their home games in AT&T Park.
Now, just a second, you might say. Didn’t the Giants just get a new stadium in 2000? Why do they need a new one? Well, it is the same one, but this is actually its third name.
In 2000, the Giants opened up SBC Park to replace Candlestick Park. Their old park, named for its geographical location on Candlestick Point, was no longer an adequate facility for a team competing in the 21st century. And four years before opening the stadium, the Giants had finalized a $53 million agreement with the Pacific Telesis Group to name the new stadium Pacific Bell Park through 2019. SBC Communications, Inc., purchased PTG, and in 2004, the new stadium became SBC Park.
Last year, SBC merged with AT&T, and in less than a month, the stadium will be rechristened again. This time, it will be known as AT&T Park. Six years, three names. At this rate, the Giants will have to change the name nine times before the end of the original contract. Sprint PCS Field, anyone?
As a baseball traditionalist, at least when it comes to stadium names, this ridiculous name-changing symbolizing everything that is wrong with the way stadiums are named today. The Texas Rangers play in Ameriquest Field. What that has to do with Texas or the Rangers is beyond me. While the Ballpark in Arlington had a great ring to it, I guess the Rangers though a 30-year, $75-million contract was better.
In Cincinnati, the Reds play in Great American Ball Park. That’s a great name until you realize that Great American is an insurance company paying $2.5 million a year to Cincinnati for 30 years. Hey, that’s nearly one-third of Eric Milton’s contract!
Meanwhile, back in California across the Bay from San Francisco, the A’s no longer play in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Rather, they play in McAfee Coliseum which was recently called Network Associates Coliseum until another telecommunications merger eliminated Network Associates.
In my mind, this corporate naming lessens the impact of the ballpark. It’s not the same to check out a game in McAfee Coliseum as it is to go to Fenway Park. In 15 years, when the A’s are playing in AOL.com Coliseum but the Red Sox are still playing in Fenway – named for the fens that used to dot the area around the stadium – it’s clear that the Red Sox can still lay a claim to their stadium’s history. But when fans don’t know which corporation will name their stadium this season, it divorces the team from the stadium and the fans from the stadium.
Now, it’s quite easy to argue against my history/tradition defense of stadium names. First, corporate sponsorship of baseball stadiums is nothing new. Wrigley Field, built by Charlie Weeghman, was originally called Weeghman Field. When the Wrigley family acquired the team, they changed the name of the stadium to Cubs Park. In 1926, it was named Wrigley Field, and the name has become a part of Cubs lore since then.
This, in my mind, isn’t the same as the current naming craze. For 12 years, the stadium wasn’t Wrigley Field, but now that names has stuck. In 30 years, the Reds will sell the naming rights to Great American Ball Park to another company. They won’t stick with it for tradition’s sake, and thirty years of naming association with disappear into history as soon as the ink on the new contract is dried.
While historical naming rights seem acceptable, one aspect of the naming system about which I cannot complain is the money. In an era of economic disparity in Major League Baseball (coincidentally, a topic for an upcoming post), the money that Reds make each year on the stadium names provides them with an additional source of revenue that they are hopefully using to improve the team. Had these teams stuck with, say, Riverfront Stadium or the Ballpark in Arlington, these millions wouldn’t be flowing in.
In the end, I know it is important for these teams to maximize their revenue potential. The difference, especially for teams such as the A’s and Brewers who do not enjoy the financial windfall of the Yankees or Red Sox, is significant. It could be the difference between fielding a competitive team under a tight budget or a non-competitive team with a very low payroll.
However, at the same time, it would be great if Major League Baseball could figure out a way to avoid anymore two-and-out names or Enron Field debacles. I may recognize the need for corporate sponsorship of baseball stadiums, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
All Ballpark naming information, including history and contract details, comes from the excellent Ballparks.com.