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THE CASE FOR CORPORATE-GIVEN NAMES


Norman Solomon

A

public-interest group is urging sportswriters to resist a free-enterprise wave

of the future. "Corporations are seizing the names of our beloved parks and

stadiums, and replacing these with their own," Commercial Alert complains

in a letter that arrived in early summer at newspaper offices across North

America. The organization adds: "There is no law that says that you have to

call a sports venue what a big corporation wants you to call it."

In

recent years, several dozen companies have bought major-league naming rights.

Baseball teams now play in Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay), Bank One Ballpark

(Phoenix), Coors Field (Denver), Network Associates Coliseum (Oakland), Pacific

Bell Park (San Francisco) and Safeco Field (Seattle). Pro basketball games are

happening at branded sites from Continental Airlines Arena in northern New

Jersey to American Airlines Arena in Miami to Arco Arena in Sacramento. Football

and hockey are in the same groove.

A

decade ago, we might have been very surprised to see the Washington Redskins

playing host to gridiron foes at a place called FedEx Field. Today — "to

help us stop the commercial degradation of sports" — Commercial Alert

wants sportswriters and fans to call stadiums "by their nicknames, not

corporate names." But such advice runs counter to the current momentum.

The

logic of auctioning off the rights to name public places is often remarkable.

For instance, your local library system might be called the Starbucks Public

Library or the Random House of Books. This would guard against tax levies and

prevent the need to increase library fines or charge admission.

Likewise,

museums that drain the U.S. Treasury could pay their own way. One day, we might

matter-of-factly refer to the Smithsonian Burger King Museum. And private

cultural institutions could also balance their books while participating in the

entrepreneurial renaissance. New York’s famed Guggenheim Museum and the

Metropolitan Museum of Art could become Nike Museum and the Exxon Mobil Museum

of Art.

Children

who go to public school now routinely wear shirts without paying attention to

the values of the dollar. Instead of freeloading their way through childhood

with some kind of anachronistic nod to a welfare state, students could meet

taxpayers partway by submitting to the discipline of wearing t-shirts with

specified commercial logos, as per contracts negotiated between school districts

and corporations.

Given

the importance of wiping out vestiges of New Deal sentimentalism, Social

Security could be named something like the Citibank of America System. Other

public-sector naming rights could be opened to competitive bids. And because the

goal of reducing taxes runs parallel to a multitude of privatization options, it

would be shortsighted to bypass a potentially great source of federal revenues

– the renaming of monuments.

The

magnificent marble shrines dedicated to our third and sixteenth presidents could

draw capitalization from aesthetically minded firms that wish to combine

reverence for heritage with promotion of their cutting-edge technologies. How

about the Jefferson/Cisco Memorial and the Lincoln/Microsoft Memorial?

The

Pfizer drug conglomerate would pay a pretty penny for a multi-year lease on the

Washington Monument’s naming rights. "The Viagra Monument" might sound

strange at first but soon could roll off millions of tongues as easily as

"FedEx Field."

Then

there’s the Capitol Building. A tasteful sign across the front facade might

identify the national legislature as the U.S./AOL Time Warner Congress. To

defray some of the governmental operating costs that burden every working

American, both chambers could bear additional names such as the Disney Senate

and the Viacom House of Representatives. Nearby, the General Electric Supreme

Court might serve us well.

Meanwhile,

rather than allowing the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to continually

deplete the public coffers, any president with a bipartisan spirit would be

pleased to live in the AT&T White House, honoring a firm that has given

millions to both the Democratic and Republican parties. And there are plenty of

other opportunities to gain top dollar from the corporate community.

So,

let’s start getting used to the kind of news broadcasts that we can learn to

accept as perfectly normal: "Speaking in the Dow Chemical Rose Garden

today, the president called on the AOL Time Warner Congress to boost

appropriations for the Merrill Lynch Kodak Defense Department. The Secretary of

McDonald’s State urged full appropriations for the Fox Dreamworks Space Weapons

Station and added that further deployment of Philip Morris nuclear missiles will

be necessary in order to safeguard the security of the United States of Archer

Daniels Midland America…"

Norman

Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His books include "The Trouble With

Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."

 

 

 

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