Naming rights: An idea whose time has come
By Joseph Bauers
Staring out from my newspaper was the doleful face of an employee of Rapid Realty of New York City, showing off a tattoo of her company's logo on her right forearm. This she had done, the accompanying story told us, to secure a 15 percent raise in her commissions, as per the offer of the company CEO. In effect, she had sold the naming rights of her right arm to her employer.
Naturally, I wondered if somewhere down the road she might regret this rather permanent decision. What if, say, the boss turned out to be a louse, or her work environment became less than hospitable? But the Big Apple being what it is — the center of the universe, if the evening news is to be believed — we must assume that this will be a trend setting event. The country is awash in advertising on every available edifice and landscape, so it stands to reason that the captains of commerce would look to the human body as another surface to cover with their constant shilling, space being at such a premium.
This piece appeared at about the same time that we learned of the Assembly Hall's new name for the next 30 years: the State Farm Center. To purists, also known as fogies, this news might have caused worry that crass commercialism had invaded the hallowed hall — but, of course, that ship sailed long ago. Modern college sports have been corrupted for some time. It's a user's game: The schools and conferences use athletes to sell tickets and television rights, and the pro leagues use the schools as training grounds for their product.
In truth, commercialism in sports is just as ubiquitous as it is everywhere else. Even sacred Wrigley Field — an early entry in the naming rights business, given that it was named for not only the Cub owner at the time, but also the chewing gum company he owned — has been offered as a candidate for garish advertising displays by today's owner. Can a new naming rights sale be far behind? The Cubs might follow their south side counterparts, who long ago sold out such rights to a telephone company. So egregious is the commercialism at that baseball palace that cynical fans call U.S. Cellular Field "The Sell" for short. It's sort of like watching a baseball game in a shopping mall.
One could grouse about it forever, but perhaps a wiser approach would be to embrace it. Locally, it offers a special opportunity. Think about how this name change could resolve the Chief Illiniwek controversy. Rather than struggle to maintain the historical fiction of how a basically agrarian Native tribe somehow morphed into a fighting inspiration for primarily Caucasian fans — as they root on primarily African-American athletes — what if the University of Illinois abandoned the Fighting Illini altogether in favor of, say, the Fighting Underwriters? As brilliant as this suggestion is, I cannot take full credit — that belongs to my wife, ever the pragmatist.
I have, however, let my imagination run wild with possible logos — a crew-cut man with a pocket protector, say, adorned with an electronic device in one hand, a briefcase in the other, and a calculator hanging from a lanyard around his neck — an image bound to strike fear in the hearts of Spartans and Wolverines. On the home front, consider the benefits for new parents if they sold the naming rights of their children to corporate America. The revenues would dramatically ease the burden of their eventual college education, which could run into the millions by the time today's babies reach college. And meanwhile, the little tykes would look so cute cavorting around in diapers — and, eventually, in tee shirts and blazers — decorated with corporate logos.
But on a broader plane, think about how naming rights is a natural fit for American foreign policy. We have in the past "partnered" with various corporate entities as we've promoted our cause in wars far and wide — Dow Chemical in Vietnam and Halliburton in Iraq, for example. But these have not exactly been fair partnerships. The companies come away with our cash, while, after each war, our country's name is viewed as even more loathsome by the world than ever before. What if we tried a new approach? Let's sell the naming rights of our future wars to the highest corporate bidder: "Syria! A War You Can Be Proud Of, brought to you by ExxonMobil!" Imagine our troops outfitted in spiffy new uniforms bearing the impressive logos, and imagine our treasury replenished with billions provided by the corporations. Their take? Limitless publicity, as the wars drag on for decades on the evening news! A true win/win!
Corporate sponsorship might even help defray the countless billions that the CIA — the branch of our government apparently accountable to no one — has dispersed to Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. As we have recently learned, great chunks of our tax dollars have ended up in his hands for the past decade, delivered faithfully in plastic bags and suitcases, money Mr. Karzai uses to pay off whatever war lords need paying off, and to support Mr. Karzai in the comfort to which he's become accustomed. In fact, isn't Afghanistan a country crying out for a corporate makeover? Chevronistan anyone?
I could go on, but innovation is such wearying task. Surely you can see the brilliance of my suggestions! And, when the time comes to honor my name on some public monument, being the true altruist I am, I will require only a very modest payment for the privilege.
Joseph Bauers is a freelance writer in Champaign. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.