Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Unlike my colleague Chris Swope, I still am uncomfortable with the whole trend of corporate naming rights -- naming stadiums and high school hallways after some big company that paid for the privilege.
My hurt feelings notwithstanding, this obviously is a phenomenon that now has taken deep root. But I wonder whether the companies involved really get much for their money.
Sure, every sports broadcaster gives them daily plugs in talking about the doings at Phone Bank Arena or Multinational Bank Field. But I can't help but be struck at how many companies that put their names out there have turned out to be losers themselves.
Out in San Francisco, the celebrated Pacific Bell Park has since been renamed after SBC and then ATT as one merger followed another. There have also been plenty, though, where the company in question has simply gone under. Think of Enron Field or PSINet Stadium.
All this is brought to mind by the news that AIG and Citigroup are sticking with their naming rights contracts -- arguably even a worse use of their money at this point than a luxury spa retreat for the executive suite.
Here is the irony that governments that sold naming rights to pay for stadiums they couldn't afford themselves are now getting their money indirectly from the national government's taxpayers.
Struggling Citibank just sealed a multi-billion-dollar emergency "backstop" deal with the U.S. government. The financial behemoth, suffering with billions in bad mortgage-related assets on its books, recently shed 53,000 workers and saw its stock price lose over half its value. Yet it's in a 20-year contract to pay the New York Mets $400 million to name the team's new stadium "Citi Field."
"This type of spending is indefensible and unacceptable to Citigroup's new partner and largest investor: the American taxpayer," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in a statement Monday.
Citi isn't alone: Imploding insurance giant AIG is paying the British soccer team Manchester United $125 million for the privilege of having its logo appear on Man U's uniforms. That, despite the fact the firm is standing largely thanks to a $150 billion lifeline from the U.S. Treasury.
"A friend of mine joked they should put 'US Treasury' on the front of their uniforms," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan watchdog group which is outraged by the expenditures.
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