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How far will corporate naming rights go in sports?

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Is everything for sale?

Los Angeles Angels v Kansas City Royals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Advertising has become an inescapable part of life. You see them on your morning commute, in between games on your cell phone, and on your TV at night. You only need to look to the left and right of this article for further evidence (unless you use adblocker!)

Professional sports are no exception, of course. There is a reason why they are billion-dollar industries! Baseball stadiums are littered with advertising all over the stadium, from the signs in the outfield to ads in the concourses. Kauffman Stadium even has the “Price Chopper Patio” and the “Miller Lite Fountain Bar Deck.”

Stadium naming rights have been around sports for awhile. It is believed by some that promotional consideration was given to Fenway Realty in the naming of the Red Sox home park. Cubs owner William Wrigley and Cardinals owner Augustus Busch both had their stadiums named after themselves, but with tie-ins to companies they owned which also bore their names.

The first stadium to actually sell its naming rights was the home stadium of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, which sold its name to Rich Foods. Baseball began to loosen its restrictions in the 90s, with the Rockies becoming the first team to sell its stadium naming rights with the opening of Coors Field in 1995. The Royals have resisted selling off the naming rights to Kauffman Stadium, although they once tried and it seems inevitable that at some point we’ll have “Corporate Sponsor Field at Kauffman Stadium.”

But leagues are becoming even more creative with what naming rights they can sell off. Major League Baseball now has “Spring Training presented by Camping World.” The draft is now the “MLB Draft presented by T-Mobile”.

The National Hockey League has taken this a step further, selling off the naming rights to their divisions. That’s right, what was once named in honor of the people that were responsible for the creation of the professional sort - Conn Smythe, Lester Patrick, Charles Adams, James E. Norris - is now being sold off to the highest bidder.

How would you feel about the Royals competing for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Central Division?

For the most part, I think much of the angst over the growing presence of sponsored corporate logos in sports is overblown. Professional soccer has had logos on uniforms for years, without much negative impact. The NBA has followed suit and it seems inevitable that baseball teams will one day have some sort of corporate logo on their uniforms.

For the most part, naming rights really seem a bit silly, as most fans can’t keep up with the ever-changing names of sponsors. In the Kansas City area, the music venue in Bonner Springs is still known by most to be “Sandstone Amphitheater”, even though its official name is “Providence Medical Center Amphitheater” (I actually had to look this up). Kauffman Stadium will always be “The K”, no matter what corporate entity eventually buys the naming rights.

Still, there is a line where it becomes tacky. If a corporate naming right becomes too intrusive, it seems sure to backfire. Fans don’t want to see everything sold off to the highest bidder and make point their ire at the corporate sponsor. MLB had to scale back a planned promotion to put a Spiderman logo on the bases after fan outcry.

We live in a capitalist society, so we can’t be too surprised when companies do all they can to grab every last dollar they can. But it is up to us to push back when it becomes too much. Ultimately, advertising only works if we give them our attention (“just don’t look, just don’t look!”)