In mid-December it was announced that the Rose Garden will make available renaming rights to a corporate sponsor. It was very sad news, but not surprising given that most major sports teams play in arenas and stadiums with corporate sponsor names.
I think there's a fine line here that's important. I prefer it when a sponsor name is combined with the retained original game.
Take the college bowl games being played this week. We know that the Fiesta Bowl is officially called the "Tostitos Fiesta Bowl", but that the Tostitos brand doesn't comprise the identity completely. Then there's "The Rose Bowl Game Presented by AT&T": no argument whatsoever about the people in Pasadena hitching a sponsor to their otherwise intact name. But just before writing this post, I happened to turn on ESPN during the Meineke Car Care Bowl. And my first thought was, where the hell is that? And I'm a huge college football fan--I even wrote a book about it. If I can't remember anything about the identity of the Meineke Car Care Bowl other than who played in it, that's a huge missed opportunity for the city of Charlotte, which my cable-TV info button told me is the host, and for the bowl itself.
So let's say, just for example, that State Farm Insurance bought the Rose Garden sponsor naming rights. I think it'd be better for everyone involved, including State Farm, if it were called the State Farm Rose Garden rather than more common selections like the State Farm Garden, State Farm Center, State Farm Arena, etc.
The Rose Garden is virtually no one's favorite architecturally. Most of us would agree that the old Memorial Coliseum next door is a far more compelling design. (The mid-century, by the way, had a lot of places with names like this: Veterans Memorial Stadium, War Memorial Stadium. Veterans Stadium.) But the name is something they really got right. Times change, and the Blazers are no longer willing to make the extra financial sacrifice to maintain that added bit of integrity when virtually everyone else has taken the sponsor-name plunge.
However, I think when places allow their arenas and stadiums and events to be entirely overtaken by sponsor names, they give up not just that sense of integrity, but also a sense of place and identity that would have otherwise been as valuable to the sponsor as to the rest of us. It's natural for a corporation to want to attach its brand to the Rose Garden, especially now that the Blazers seem to be so dramatically on the rise. But a sponsor agreement should be a partnership, no a usurpation.
You can ask people all over the country what city the Rose Garden is in, and they'll answer correctly that it's Portland. That has immeasurable value to the city and the arena itself. It's not as tangible as the checks for millions of dollars they'll get from a sponsor. But why does it necessarily have to be one or the other? Altough the people of Portland don't own the Rose Garden, the city is diminished by losing that name. Imagine if people visiting Pasadena found that the Rose Bowl was called the AT&T Bowl? I probably wouldn't have had my picture taken outside, like I did on January 2, 1995 to see Oregon play there.
It probably sounds like I'm splitting hairs. But as someone who has always really, really hated the proliferation of sponsor-named stadiums, this is my attempt to meet business realities half-way.
Incidentally, when a Portland Business Journal poll on December 21 asked, "Should the Rose Garden be named after a corporate sponsor?", 35 percent said "Yes: Why not? Other teams are doing it, and the Blazers could use the money." 18 percent said, "Yes, but only if the corporation is based in Oregon." 45 percent said, "No way: Keep Portland weird."
I'd definitely agree with the latter 45 percent, but there needs to be a middle ground between the less and less likely chance of keeping a sponsor away and having one swallow the Rose Garden's identity whole.