Many fans have suggested the ballpark be named after local icons such as Dave Niehaus, Fred Hutchinson or Ken Griffey, Jr. But on a more practical level, it’s a way for the Mariners to increase revenues, which theoretically should allow them to put a better product on the field.
There’s something about a classic, old ballpark name that still thrills the senses.
Lambeau Field. The Polo Grounds. Dodger Stadium. Boston Garden. Wrigley Field. They roll off the tongue and have a mystique, a magic, a purity to them.
And they are disappearing like phone booths and video stores. Boston Garden became the Shawmut Center more than 20 years ago, then Fleet Center, then TD Banknorth Garden, and now TD Garden, named after TD Bank, a subsidiary of Canada’s Toronto-Dominion Bank.
Has a real poetry, doesn’t it? But it’s the modern sports world, where income sources and revenue streams are paramount, and tradition is for sale to the highest bidder. Hence, we trek to such soulless-sounding venues as the Smoothie King Center, O.Co Coliseum and Quicken Loans Arena and barely bat an eye anymore.
The hot rumor in the sports financial world is that the New York Yankees inevitably will sell the naming rights to Yankee Stadium, perhaps the most revered venue in American sports. Among the possible candidates, according to the Bronx Pinstripes website: Delta Air Lines, Bigelow Tea and Casio. The temptation would be to call it the House That Greed Built, but it’s hard to knock the Yankees for looking at the record 20-year, $400 million naming-rights deal the Mets signed with Citi Bank and not wanting a piece of that action.
Which brings us to the Mariners, who will begin the process of renaming their ballpark now that their agreement with Safeco Insurance will not be renewed after next season. Safeco Field will be no more, starting after the 2018 season.
There’s a little bit of trepidation here, right? The Mariners could end up with one of those clunky, butt-of-the-joke names like the White Sox took on this year when their ballpark changed from U.S. Cellular Field (not exactly lyrical, but it at least could be shortened to “The Cell”) to Guaranteed Rate Field (complete with its downward-arrow logo, not exactly the imagery a second-division team covets).
So we await to see if we’re going to fall in line with the Little Caesars Arenas and KFC Yum! Centers of the world. Because it was the name the ballpark had from its inception, and because Safeco was a time-tested local company, and because the name had a vaguely stately air to it, and because it had an instant and appealing nickname (“The Safe”), we came to accept and even, I dare say, appreciate it.
It’s hard to articulate, but some corporate names just work better than others when attached to a ballpark. I’m sure it’s a fine regional company and all, but I doubt many would want to cheer for the M’s at Tacoma Screw Products Yards.
In some ways this is a golden opportunity for the Mariners. Many fans have suggested the ballpark be named after local baseball icons such as Dave Niehaus, Fred Hutchinson or Ken Griffey Jr., or cultural figures such as Eddie Vedder or Jimi Hendrix. Noble thoughts, indeed. But on a more practical level, it’s a way for the Mariners to potentially increase their revenues, which at least theoretically should allow them to put a better product on the field.
The good news, says Thomas Wills, president and CEO of Bonham/Wills and Associates, a leading sports and entertainment consulting firm based out of Vancouver and Las Vegas, is that the naming-rights game is going through something of a boom right now.
“It may be happenstance, but this is a great time for the Mariners,’’ he said. “If they do this properly, which I think they will, they can do really well, not only financially, but also bringing in a good partner who will help drive butts into seats.”
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The Mariners were widely reported to have had a 20-year, $40 million deal with Safeco. Wills believes that will be at least doubled to “north of $5 million (a year)” in another longterm contract.
Having been involved with naming-rights negotiations as representatives of both teams and corporations, Wills predicts it will be a quiet, behind-the-scenes process that will focus on local corporations, with which 75 to 80 percent of all naming-rights agreements are struck. He sees Starbucks and Boeing as long shots, with Amazon and Microsoft as more logical partners.
The whole process, from contact to contract, generally takes six to 12 months, so an announcement could come in the first half of next season. Given that our romantic notions have been under assault for decades, Wills agrees that the stigma of attaching corporate names to ballparks is rapidly declining. But that still takes some work.
“It’s about narrative and selling it the right way — selling that you’re enhancing the fan experience and putting a better product on the field, not padding the pockets of ownership,” he said.
I think fans have fairly minimal requirements in this day and age, when they are resigned to the fact that stadiums are likely to be named for anything from pizza chains to razor companies.
For starters, they don’t want a new name every few years. Choose a company and stick with it. If you’re a Miami Dolphins fan, you’ve rooted for your team at Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium, Sun Life Stadium and now Hard Rock Stadium. (I’d love to have been in the meeting when the decided they needed to lose that “s” in Dolphins.) That’s mind-numbing, confusing and eventually a joke.
You don’t want a stadium to be named after a company embroiled in controversy (hello, Enron Field). You don’t want the name to reflect clumsy corporate mumbo-jumbo — just normal corporate mumbo-jumbo.
If it can be reduced to a catchy nickname, like the Trop, so much the better. But be careful. The Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer play at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, referred to by many fans simply as “The Dick.” I guess that rules out Dick’s Drive-In Park for the Mariners.
For better or worse, it’s the new way of doing business. Old-timers such as Joe DiMaggio might be spinning in their graves to learn that the romance of his era is rapidly disappearing.
Then again, Joltin’ Joe became better known to many as Mr. Coffee as the result of the ad campaign he headlined, so maybe he’d understand after all.