Philly High School to Sell Naming Rights

The privatization of public institutions took a turn for the grotesque this week when the Philadelphia School District announced plans to sell naming rights to a new model high school that will open in September 2006. The school system hopes to sell the naming rights for $5 million, to be supplemented by other naming “opportunities” for individual classrooms (at about $25,000 each), as well as the auditorium and other portions of the school. The high-tech prototype school in West Philadelphia is being developed in cooperation with Microsoft Corporation.

Dare we imagine how this will turn out? ( Mad Magazine, where are you?) I have a dream that schools will feature The Colgate Bathrooms®, The La-Z-Boy Faculty Lounge®, and The Nike Playground®. And just wait till a sponsoring corporation gets embroiled in an ethics scandal, and the Enron Auditorium® needs to be renamed. If parents and school administrators are concerned about student cynicism, it’s hard to imagine a better way to fan the flames. Could there be any more blatant educational “message” being taught here?

At the ramparts of the fight against these naming rights is Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert. Gary was busy with the media yesterday explaining why the growth of naming rights ought to concern us. “It is a sign of the decline of our values that we name things not after our heroes or history, but after corporations with the deepest pockets,” said Ruskin. “Schools exist to promote character and good values, not commercial values….What is Philadelphia going to do next? Rename the Liberty Bell after Taco Bell?” (For more on this controversy, see a Philadelphia Inquirer article.)

There is good news on the naming rights front, however. The voters of San Francisco approved Proposition H, declaring that their stadium shall be named “Candlestick Park,” by a 55% to 45% margin. Only weeks before the election, the San Francisco 49ers announced that it had sold the naming rights of Candlestock to Monster Cable Products, even though they knew Proposition H would be on the ballot. Matt Gonzalez, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said, “The voters have spoken in favor of tradition and history, and against the commercial takeover of our civic and cultural institutions.”

The signs are growing that the public is fed up with too much advertising. An April 2004 poll by Yankelovich Partners found that 60% of Americans have a “much more negative opinion of marketing and advertising now than a few years ago,” and that 65% “think there should be more limits and regulations on marketing and advertising.” Proposition H may be part of a long-brewing backlash.