In Our View: A Price Tag for Everything?

Hopefully, naming-rights trend will never extend to civic institutions

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As sports fans know, the games these days are all about the names. There are Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field in Seattle. There are the Moda Center and, as of now, Providence Park in Portland. There are all kinds of stadiums and arenas bearing the names of all kinds of companies, reflecting the modern ethos that everything does, indeed, have a price.The Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers, was the Rose Garden for the first 18 years of its existence. Last year, when arena management sold naming rights to the building for the first time, the seminal question was, “What in the heck is a Moda?” Which is exactly the point. Moda Health, which previously was ODS and before that was Oregon Dental Service, reportedly paid about $4 million a year for a deal that would put its name on the building and get people to ask, “What in the heck is Moda?”

Now, Portland’s other primary sports venue is changing its name. The Portland Timbers announced last week that they have reached a deal with Providence Health & Services to rename what previously was known as Jeld-Wen Field. Considering that the inside of the soccer team’s stadium already has the Budweiser Balcony and the Widmer Brothers Southern Front and the KeyBank Club Deck, this comes as no surprise. But in the sense that “Providence” could just as well refer to what the team is calling upon to help it win games, it’s unlikely that consumers will ask, “What in the heck is Providence?”

It could be worse, of course. Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros played at Enron Field as that company was becoming synonymous with corporate corruption. And the University of Louisville’s basketball teams play in the KFC Yum! Center. So, yeah, there are worse names than Providence Park.

Naming stadiums after corporations is nothing new. Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912, was named after a realty company owned by the team’s owner; Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, got its monicker from the club’s owner and his chewing gum company. But the notion of selling naming rights to companies that have no connection to the team is a fairly new idea and now is viewed as a way to boost a franchise’s revenue stream.

So, what about cities? With government entities struggling to pay their bills these days, how about taking a cue from the sports world and selling naming rights? Why, Vancouver could tap into a gold mine by selling the naming rights to, say, City Hall. We could have the Papa Murphy’s City Hall. That’s a Vancouver-based company, right?

Or how about Esther Short Park? Nothing sounds more inviting and family friendly than Nautilus Esther Short Park.

And then there’s the Waterfront Renaissance Trail, which could become the Waste Management Waterfront Renaissance Trail.

We might want to rethink that last one. We might want to rethink the entire premise. But it seems as though you can’t go anywhere these days without the world looking like a sponsor-inundated NASCAR race. So why couldn’t this work for cities or counties or school districts? Why couldn’t it work for the U.S. National Park Service? We might enjoy inviting visitors to the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Yes, we are being absurd. But if it ever reaches the point where iconic civic institutions are for sale to corporations, then communities finally will have put a price on their souls.