Sometime before George Steinbrenner's heart freezes over, the
House That Ruth Built will get a new name. One imagines
Steinbrenner in front of a full-length mirror, trying out
different combinations: Dunkin' Donuts Yankee Stadium. Isuzu
Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium byyyyy Mennen.
This month the naming rights to the NHL Predators' new arena in
Nashville--now officially called the Gaylord Entertainment
Center--went for more than $4 million per year over the next 20
years. If a rink in Nashville can gross $80 million for its
name, imagine what Steinbrenner could pocket by selling out
Yankee Stadium. The current naming-rights record of $185 million
over 20 years (for Atlanta's new Philips Arena, home of the
NBA's Hawks and the NHL's Thrashers) might be the opening bid,
and that would pay Bernie Williams's salary. But first the Boss
must find out the fate of a proposed new stadium that might
become the House That Naming Rights Built.
More than half the franchises in the four major sports perform
in commercially named stadiums, a percentage that is rising
fast. Pasadena has commissioned a $25,000 study on a possible
deal for the Rose Bowl. Baltimore wants to sell the rights to
the "development process" for a planned new arena. The new
Browns, who wouldn't sell the name of their venue, still raised
millions by signing up a corporate sponsor for each of the four
main gates at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The movement that gave us today's Qualcomms, Comericas, Safecos
and Consecos started just 11 years ago when Jerry Buss changed
the name of his fabulous Forum to the Great Western Forum for 15
years in exchange for a no longer fabulous $17.8 million.
Washington Mutual, which bought Great Western Financial in 1997,
now wants $28.4 million to let the Lakers and Kings leave
Inglewood for the $100 million embrace of the younger, more
enticing Staples Center, which they'll share with the woeful
Clippers (henceforth the Paper Clips?).
Is no name sacred? Maybe Notre Dame Stadium--"that's if you're
saying there's got to be some pureness, that we don't need to
name everything," says Jeff Knapple, a former backup quarterback
for the Broncos who now runs the naming-rights consulting firm
Envision. But if the Golden Dome is untouchable, Fenway Park
probably isn't. The Red Sox have promised not to put a corporate
tag on their proposed new home, but General Sports and
Entertainment CEO Andy Appleby isn't convinced. "If they could
find enough money, it would be Tastee Freez Park," he says.
Appleby figures Boston's Brahmins just can't afford to admit how
willing they might be to rename Fenway. Why not? "If they let
the word out, all the Save Fenway people would be chaining
themselves to the old stadium."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT NEUBECKER