The Name Game
by Jim Alderson, 6/21/01
I read with interest that the Heinz Corporation has agreed to pony up $57 million over the next decade to have the new Pittsburgh football palace dubbed ‘Heinz Stadium.’ I read in the story that this was the same Heinz Corporation that lost $170 million in its last operating quarter, leading me to wonder exactly what corporate management was up to, and whether the company’s stockholders had been consulted. I assume top management doesn’t plan to be working too many Sundays to address a balance sheet every bit as red as the product for which they are most famous, as I feel sure they will be enjoying Steelers games from the luxury boxes that no doubt were part of the deal. Prepare to pay more for ketchup, folks, and if I owned any Heinz stock I do believe I would consider selling it. On the brighter side, those planning to make the trip for Tech’s November 3 game with the Panthers can now look forward to observing a giant, inflatable ketchup bottle hovering over the stadium. Mustard for hot dogs could be a problem, however.
Corporate sponsorship of stadia has largely been a phenomenon confined to taxpayer-financed ballparks occupied by professional teams; indeed, Heinz’ relationship is primarily with the Steelers (and are the Panthers, as they play in a stadium containing bright yellow seats and with Steelers and NFL logos all over the field, going to scream out ‘secondary tenant’ or what?). The last two pro parks I have been in had the names of cellular giants Alltel and Ericsson plastered on them. I can only imagine the thrill stockholders of PSINet must feel as they contemplate their worthless stock certificates and how much of their cash was handed over to Baltimore and the Ravens.
Poor management aside, corporate sponsorship is here to stay. It is prevalent in college sports as well, primarily in the form of the huge contracts showered on teams such as the Blue and Tar Nikes. There were other proposed sponsorship deals discussed with Duke and Carolina, but vanity prevented 'Coach K Court' being located in 'Grecian Indoor Stadium.' And while a bungled basketball coaching search at Carolina may have Dean on the outs with UNC AD Dickie B these days, a deal to change the name of the 'Dean Dome' to more reflect the current occupant of the big chair at Carolina was discarded when it was felt that the Just For Men Dome would draw attention to the fact that while Carolina may field a women’s basketball team, Dean sure wasn’t going to let them play in HIS dome. They were relegated to his hand-me-down, Carmichael Auditorium.
We have seen venue naming arrangements, however, with McDonald’s handing Georgia Tech several large to re-christen the former Alexander Memorial Coliseum to 'Big Mac Arena' or whatever, as well as have former coach Bobby Cremins give Ronald McDonald impressions his last couple of years on the Jackets’ bench. I suppose 'Grant Field at historic Quarterpounder with Cheese Stadium' is not far down the road.
As Pitt(sburgh) prepares for their inaugural season in Heinz Stadium, the corporate naming of stadiums is an idea that could provide needed funds for cash-strapped Big East programs. I would think member schools are already drawing up plans to peddle stadium names to corporations reflective of their areas and regions (Heinz is, after all, headquartered in Pittsburgh). 'Mason Jar Field at WVU' and 'Barone Sanitation Stadium' at Rutgers pop to mind; RU’s stadium could be known as the Landfill for more than one reason. Given its location, Miami’s Paul Dee should be engaged in negotiations with Coppertone to change the name of the Orange Bowl to the 'Coppertone Bronze Bowl.' This could open up tremendous opportunities for cross marketing, such as one involving the company’s tanning product, Miami cheerleaders and bikinis. If I’m going to go down there and watch Tech lose by twenty, as I did in 2000, sideline diversion would be welcome.
Speaking of Tech, a name changed or added to Lane Stadium is probably in the cards. Rumors of the large contribution necessary for the luxury box addition abound. When the money is handed over, the name of the person or organization doing the giving is going with it. I personally like the name ‘Alderson Football Complex,’ but unfortunately, a quick look at my current financial situation reveals that the $50 million that would be needed to make this Smithian gesture (are the Hoos going to name their new basketball arena Anonymous Hall?) is not on hand, and is not likely to be in the near future. Somebody else is going to have to step up.
It is interesting to speculate on who or what may soon be attached to our stadium. One does wonder exactly how much money the Pamplins have, but they tend to spend it on the academic side of the University. Virginia Tech’s Georgia-Pacific Stadium does not seem a likely name, as it just doesn’t seem to fit; for the same reason, negotiations are probably not underway with Virginia Beach’s Cavalier Hotel. These arrangements can be tricky, and we would certainly not want to duplicate what happened when the Greensboro-based Ham’s restaurant chain signed a company-wide deal with UNC that, among other things, led to Ham’s Greenville store (I have friends in the restaurant business, and they call them stores for some reason), located practically adjacent to the East Carolina campus, proudly proclaiming itself as the ‘Home of the Heels.’ I’m told business was slow during the time it took to rip down the banners.
I have been giving the proper corporate naming for Tech football facilities a lot of thought (it beats working on the complete re-writing of the last two parts of Football2001 that got underway shortly after reading something else in the news). I have decided that the corporate name that would best suit Tech is the 'TSL Football Complex.' Sounds catchy, doesn’t it? I imagine Will sat bolt upright in his chair after reading this, and is already muttering "the company can’t afford it" line he often uses, especially when he encounters me with my hand extended palm up. That didn’t seem to matter to PSINet. Let’s assume, however, that the current balance sheet of TSL will not allow for a $50 mil donation to Tech. There are ways to rectify this situation.
I am assuming everyone reading this already subscribes to the TSL Extra. Since it would only take a couple of million new subscribers, now is an opportune time for everyone to purchase a couple of hundred more and give them as gifts. While you’re at it, head over to TechLocker.com and buy $5-6 thousand worth of merchandise. It would quickly add up, and just think of the personal fulfillment you would experience as you watched Will present Jim Weaver with the check this fall on ESPN. I bet THAT would get him into the press box.
Dig out those platinum cards and embark on a spending spree at those parts of this site that take in the money. Let’s make it the 'TSL Football Complex.'
Jim Alderson,who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.