Imagine the public confusion that would result if your city government changed the names of major landmarks every few years at the behest of some corporation. Main Street could become Home Depot Avenue, and then a few years later, Budweiser Boulevard. This is roughly the scenario now playing out with sports arenas as companies are engulfed by scandal, acquired by other corporations and mismanaged into bankruptcy.
Stadium names are becoming embarrassing symbols. As Samatha Gross of Associated Press writes, the Houston Astros had to deal with the ignominy of playing in Enron Park when the company collapsed several years ago. (It is now Minute Maid Park.) When the dot-com bubble burst, PSINet Stadium and CMGI Field had to be re-named. Now in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown, Philadelphians are wondering if Wachovia Center will be renamed for Citicorp. New Yorkers and Seattle residents are wondering what the WaMu theaters at Madison Square Garden and in Seattle will be called.
Such are the hidden costs of selling naming rights: public confusion, anger and ultimately, indifference about the venue. Why should sports fans care about their city’s teams when the very names of beloved arenas are tainted every few years? Can earning revenue from selling stadium names really offset fan demoralization and fickle loyalties?