By RICHARD SANDOMIR
Published: July 4, 2012 by the New York Times
Barclays is paying $200 million over 20 years for the Brooklyn arena’s naming rights.
In less than three months, Barclays Center in Brooklyn will open with a concert by Jay-Z, a minority owner of the Nets. That will be followed a couple of weeks later by two nights of music from the high priestess of the borough, Barbra Streisand. Soon after the buttah melts, the Brooklyn Nets will open their season.
And so while a lot has gone right for the Nets in the last 72 hours — agreements for a big trade and the re-signing of Deron Williams — the Barclays episode feels right out of the team’s haunted past.
After all, the Nets traded Julius Erving, the franchise’s original sin; they moved nomadically between New York and New Jersey; they played lousy basketball; they waited patiently through legal challenges to the building of their new arena, and then Barclays gets itself into a world of trouble for trying to manipulate interest rates for its own benefit and winds up paying $450 million to settle the accusations against it.
Which, while we’re on the topic of ill-fated choices, brings us to ask: can teams really trust the companies buying the names to their arenas and stadiums? Maybe teams should simply confer with the F.B.I. and bank regulators before closing on their naming rights deals.
The $200 million that Barclays is paying over 20 years for the arena’s naming rights would have been hard for any team to turn down.
Naming rights, in the end, inhabit a quirky corner of the sports universe. Stadium and arena names change as companies go out of business, merge, are acquired or land in legal trouble.
On the more benign side, what is now called Wells Fargo Center, home to the Philadelphia Flyers and the 76ers, has had three previous names: CoreStates, First Union and Wachovia. All of them banks, all of them involved in some way with swallowing each other whole.
In San Francisco, the Giants have played in one ballpark with three names in 12 years: Pacific Bell, SBC and AT&T Park.
Probably the most unfortunate tale in naming rights history occurred in Houston when the Astros named their new stadium Enron Field in 2000. The Astros weren’t at fault. For all they knew, Enron was as solid as Microsoft. Unbeknown to them, Enron was finagling its finances and hugely overstating its profits. It went bankrupt in 2001. The team stripped Enron’s name off the field and quickly found a new buyer with a sweet name and reputation about as far as possible from a corrupt energy trader: Minute Maid.
Once upon a name, Adelphia Communications owned cable television systems and put its moniker on the home of the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. But after members of Adelphia’s controlling family were convicted of charges related to the looting of the company, the stadium’s tainted name was shed and it came to be known as the Coliseum — you could regard this period as a stadium in a witness protection program — before becoming the rather anonymous, but untarnished, LP Field.
Then there is the story of Allianz Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. We know it as MetLife Stadium, where the Jets and the Giants play. Allianz, a Munich-based insurer, was close to striking a deal in 2008 by offering the teams about $25 million a year. But because one’s past matters — even a distant, disavowed past — the insurance company lost any chance of watching a crane hoist giant A-L-L-I-A-N-Z letters to the top of the stadium when it became widely known that Allianz insured the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and that a former chief executive served as Hitler’s economics minister.
MetLife, an insurance company known for marketing itself with “Peanuts” characters, came along last year before the start of the stadium’s second season, with a deal worth $17 million to $20 million a year. Snoopy’s football joint has, as yet, not been tainted.
Sometimes the taint is not quite so black and white as that involving Allianz.
Several years back, after the economy cratered and banks accepted billions of dollars in bailout cash from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, Citi’s 20-year, $400 million agreement with the Mets took on a different kind of taint.
Banks, many felt at the time, were being rewarded for years of risky behavior, or worse. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, petitioned the Treasury Department to force banks with naming rights deals that accepted TARP money to rip up their stadium deals, pronto, no matter how old they were.
Maybe the lesson for teams is just not to sell naming rights. You lose some money, but maybe avoid some embarrassments.
Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park retain their storied names. Cleveland Browns Stadium is unsullied by the accounting tricks or rate manipulations of a naming rights partner.
And Lambeau Field in Green Bay still evokes a coach named Curly. Please, don’t tell me there is a dark side to Curly.