Your name here arena
June 8, 2011 Leave a comment
Anyone who has free time as a tourist in Chicago will obviously have a list of things to do and see, either partaking of the more cultural activities and enjoying some of the best natural history museums in the world, some great food or just marvelling at the skyscrapers that dominate the city, that based on average heights, gives Chicago the highest skyline in the world. Obviously you will want to visit the observation deck in the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the US and the fifth tallest in the world. Except that you cannot visit the Sears Tower any more and will have to make do with the Willis Tower instead. Because the ‘naming rights’ have changed and even though the Sears Roebuck moved out of the building seventeen years earlier, the London based insurer decided to rename the building after itself.
It’s probably understandable that there are reasons for changing a name. Wives often do it to remove their former married names, cities do it to remove the stigma of a dictatorship, for example Volgograd was formerly Stalingrad, even whole countries have done it following independence or to return to its original name, Zimbabwe was formally Rhodesia and its capital was Salisbury, not Harare. Byzantium became Constantinople (it was a new city) which is now Istanbul, the original name in the Turkish language. But the Sears Corporation was not overthrown by the proud freedom fighters of Willis Group Holdings yet against the wishes of over 97,000 people in the Facebook group against the name change, Willis Group still insisted on changing the name of the building from Sears Tower to Willis Tower. And in fifteen years, the ‘naming rights’ will be available again, so the Sears – Willis tower may even become the ‘Cryptothinking Real American Palace’ tower and I am sure that there could be an acronym for short.
The whole issue of ‘naming rights’ is most prevalent in sporting arenas. You can visit the UK and watch Darlington play soccer at the Williamson Motors Stadium, I mean the Darlington Arena, no wait, it’s the 96.6 TFM Darlington Arena, make that the Balfour Webnet Darlington Arena, sorry, I meant the Northern Echo Darlington Arena. At least that has Darlington in the name: How about a visit to the Sun Life Stadium, formerly called the Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphin Stadium and Land Shark Stadium in Florida? Some of my friends in California now watch bands and basketball at the Power Balance Pavilion, not the Arco Arena. The right to put your name on a building is big business. On my visits to Indianapolis, I watched the construction of the new home for the Indianapolis Colts, named for the next 20 years Lucas Stadium at a cost of 121 million dollars. (Oh, and even the Indianapolis Colts were the Brooklyn Colts and owe their colors and origins to the Dallas Texans.)
Even airports are getting in on the act. You cannot fly to Liverpool or Belfast City airports anymore; it’s now John Lennon and George Best airports respectively. Orange County Airport in California is now called John Wayne Airport and ‘shurely’ that should have been Marion Robert Morrison, his real name. Several American aviation authorities are seriously thinking of allowing the naming rights to their to be sold, in Kansas, Detroit and Utah, although Phoenix did refuse to allow the Sky Harbor Airport to become Ashley Madison Airport, turning down $10m from the infidelity dating site of the same name. But let’s assume this became a trend: can you imagine how many children would be denied visits to Disneyland because their parents did not want them exposed to advertising when Orlando International becomes McDonalds Happy Airport with all the TSA security guards dressed in Ronald McDonald outfits?
But what happens when companies change their name or just go out of favor? This happens frequently, for example the Philip Morris tobacco conglomerate is now Altria Group and the CIA and US State department contractor Blackwater has become Xe Services llc, pronounced ‘zee’. How many cab drivers will reply “Which freaking one?” in response to “Xe Building, please” Corporate headquarters names have changed however, for example, the Standard Oil Building in Chicago became the Amoco building following the change in the company name, which made its nickname of ‘The Big Stan’ a bit silly, especially as it is now the Aon Center. In Houston, Enron Field became Minute Maid Park, but you could also go to the Toyota Center or Reliant Energy’s Arena. There is also the Verizon Wireless Theater. So when the world boycotts cars, bans oil, stops drinking Coca-Cola’s products and Verizon changes its name yet again, will all the street maps for downtown Houston become out of date overnight and FEMA drafted in to help the hundreds of Texans lost in their own city?
But please, can we now stop? It can go too far and anyway the locals will not keep up. There is a pub in Wales that is known to all as ‘The Rat Trap’ and despite an attempt to change it the present owners were forced to revert to the former name because no one knew where it was. On top, some places become so iconic or notorious that their names will never change, for example The Chrysler Building in New York or the remains of the Holiday Inn and St Georges Hotels in Beirut. So no attempt at corporate branding will work here and anyway you may be better off as being known for owning the building: The MGM Grand, The Bellagio and The Luxor casinos are iconic and all owned by the same company. Purpose built, famous buildings designed with individual names. Unlike the four Fifth Third sports fields or the four Verizon Centers or the various Coca Cola stadia worldwide.
It doesn’t of course stop with buildings. Literary prizes, sports leagues, even racing teams are named after those willing to pay. Perhaps I could join in. For a small nominal fee paid to my Cayman Islands bank account, you could have your name on the top of this post. You can replace Cryptothinking with the name of your company, just imagine, you could be reading the Burger King Mid Atlantic Thought Generator, assuming of course you wouldn’t feel compelled to rush out and buy a beef sandwich or wasn’t held back because you work for McDonalds and they would disapprove of you frequenting a rival’s establishment.