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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2012/11/29
by Mike Gruenberg

Selling Out

In My Life

It seems like I’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. My dad took me to my first baseball game when I was nine years old. I’ve been going regularly to baseball parks since then at locations all over the country. There is a special feeling at every stadium, be it minor league or majors that is hard to describe when you first look at the green grass and the baseball diamond as you come in and make your way to your seats.

Looking around the stadium, there are advertisements posted hawking products ranging from beer to doughnuts. Companies spend a considerable amount of money to have those signs strategically placed around the stadium extolling the virtues of their product in plain view of all the fans. Beer, soft drinks, peanuts, etc are all vying for the attention of the fan so that a few more dollars can be spent on refreshments while watching their favorite sports teams.

As a student of the history of baseball, I have seen pictures of old ballparks whose signs are somewhat different than the ones we see today. For one thing, the old-time signs didn’t light up like the neon ones we see today. My favorite old-time sign was the one posted in the deepest part of the outfield that said something to the effect that if a ballplayer could hit a homerun and should the ball travel through a hole in the aforementioned sign, that the ball player would get a free suit of clothes at the men’s store that posted the sign. Times have changed since today’s ballplayers have more than enough money to buy as many suits as they want without performing the unique act of hitting a ball through a hole in the outfield wall.

Owners of baseball teams derive a significant income from the many signs posted throughout their collective stadiums. While I certainly cannot begrudge anyone from maximizing their income, it seems to me that all revenue generated from those signs has not reduced ticket prices or the cost of food at those venues. But wait a minute; a new scheme has been devised by owners of sports franchises that involve the selling of the “naming rights” to the stadium. We now have MetLife football stadium in New Jersey named after the famous life insurance company. In NYC, we have CitiField, named after the bank for the Mets. And although Citibank needed to be bailed out with taxpayer money from the federal government during the recent financial crisis, they were able to agree to pay the Mets mega millions over an extended time period just for the privilege to put their name on the stadium. Having been to CitiField, I can attest to the fact that whatever monies the Mets received from Citibank, none of that cash was earmarked for lower ticket price or more reasonable costs for food. It’s not just the Mets. I recently went to a concert at Verizon Center in Washington, DC and paid $4.25 for bottled water!

In essence, sponsorship, signage and naming rights in the world of professional sports franchises does little, if anything to reduce the costs that the average fan has to pay to see their favorite team compete, while it does enhance the financial coffers of the teams themselves.

I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland as well as Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry are offering sponsorships, marketing tie-ins and naming rights at their venues for a price. Both organizations cite declining revenues as the reason to pursue this new marketing scheme to bring in more revenue. I kept imagining what this type of joint venture might lead to. How tacky it would be to see “The Bruce Springsteen Exhibit” brought to you by Jiffy Lube. One can only cringe to see the sign that announces, “Now you can see John Lennon’s Hand written Lyrics” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sponsored by Bic Pens. Maybe we’ll see a newly named AT&T Theater at the R’n”R Hall of Fame telling us that it is now showing “Hard Day’s Night” with a reduced rate on the cost of a trough of popcorn when you buy three small drinks. These naming rights possibilities all are a bit unseemly to me.

My fears of rampant commercialism at the Hall was somewhat allayed when Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation President, Joel Peresman pointed out that “As a not-for-profit, you can’t be the Philips Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – you couldn’t legally do that” he said. After all, the Hall is a not-for-profit organization. Well I certainly would not like to see a corporate name on the front of the building.

It’s always a struggle with any museum or arena or stadium to have enough funds to cover all the expenses. Modernization, new technologies and just keeping up with everyday expenses is difficult in these times of declining corporate and personal budgets. However, if we are to learn from history, the monies spent on naming stadiums and arenas or sponsorship of exhibits has no appreciable effect of lowering ticket prices or food costs for the people who come to those venues.

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