Lame-ing Rights


The suspense is killing me.

Back on November 6th, Kansas City’s NBC Action News reported that the Royals had sold the naming rights to a corporate sponsor, and would soon be changing the name of Kauffman Stadium. The Royals Organization quickly addressed the report, saying that they were “open to listening to proposals” but “no agreement has come to fruition”.

The Royals play their games in one of 12 Major League stadiums that don’t currently have some meaningless corporate name plastered on the front door. I am well aware of the trend, and when I heard this news, it both scared and saddened me. It reminded me that I was foolishly taking the home of the Royals for granted.

Let me preface this article by stating the obvious – I’m a traditionalist. I like Ebbets Field, Sportsman’s Park, and The Polo Grounds. Tropicana Field? Not so much. I’m disappointed that the White Sox went from playing in Comiskey Park to U.S. Cellular Field. It’s a shame that the Pirates used to call Three Rivers Stadium home & now play in PNC Park.

I understand that we live in a day & age where money is king. It’s a far cry from the days when the most important thing was the game on the field. Today’s venues are more focused on entertaining the fans and giving them things to do other than watch the game. Things will never go back to being as simple as spending an afternoon at the ballpark. I know I have to deal with that, and I get along fine most days. Reports like the one a couple of weeks ago are signs that the tradition is eroding. The recent NFL & current NBA lockouts are cruel reminders that it all comes back to money – and everyone wants more. I commend the Royals (& the Chiefs while we’re at it) for hanging on to this tradition. We are unique in that we have these two great stadiums that sit side by side and both carry names that still mean something.

There is a scene in the movie Major League II where the players are appalled that GM Roger Dorn has sold advertising on every inch of the Outfield wall. He needed to do it to raise money. I think that although that scene was written for comedy, owners around major league baseball must have had a light bulb go on above their heads. Fast forward 10 years, and you’ve got more advertising inside a baseball stadium than the Sunday newspaper. This includes selling naming rights to the stadium itself. All of a sudden, a historic building that was named after war heroes, influential men, owners, cities, and mascots are replaced by the name of the highest bidder.

In the end, what is it really worth? The Royals deal was reportedly worth between 3 and 6 million dollars per year. However, about half of that amount would go towards stadium maintenance. It ends up being far more beneficial for whoever purchased the naming rights, especially with next summer’s All-Star Game looming. The Royals know that now is the time to sell if there ever was one.

I’m not blind to the fact that it hasn’t been Kauffman Stadium all that long. It was simply “Royals Stadium” since its opening in 1973 and remained that until July 2, 1993, when it took on its current name. It was just a month later when Ewing Kauffman passed away. The traditionalists back then may not have approved of the name change, but it MEANT SOMETHING. I think that people appreciated the tribute to the man and felt that it was a noble gesture by the organization.

Selling the naming rights to Kauffman would plaster a corporate sponsor on the front door & demote the man who got this city it’s most recent championship. They would probably make an effort to keep Kauffman’s name on something, but then it just becomes complicated. Say they throw his name on the Field. Is anyone really going to say that they’re going to see a game at “Kauffman Field at Arvest Bank Stadium”?

Naming Rights change along with the people who purchase them. Companies fold. They merge. They change names. Three of the worst examples of this:

The Houston Astros. When it came time to replace the iconic Astrodome, the team constructed a new $250 million stadium. Then they sold the naming rights to the local energy company Enron. Just a year later, Enron went bankrupt and found themselves in one of our countries worst financial scandals ever. The Astros bought back the naming rights, and eventually sold the naming rights to Minute Maid. Whether they like it or not, they will forever be tied to the Enron debacle.

The San Francisco Giants. Although it was reportedly one of the worst places in America to play baseball, Candlestick Park was an awesome name for a stadium. The Giants finally got their own baseball friendly stadium in 2000 and sold the naming rights to The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. They named it Pacific Bell Park, which isn’t a bad name. However, three years later, Southwestern Bell Corporation acquired Pacific Bell and the stadium was renamed SBC Park. Then, three years later, SBC merged with AT&T, and the stadium was again renamed. It has somehow survived the past five years as AT&T Park, but how long until the next merger or buyout?

The Oakland A’s. Before 1997, the football/baseball monstrosity was known as Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Since then, it has been a whirlwind. It has been successfully tossed around like a hot potato, carrying a different name every couple of years. From Network Associates Coliseum to McAfee Coliseum, back to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, to Coliseum, and just this past summer Coliseum. Fans just call it the Coliseum because that is the only thing that has remained consistent over the years. The A’s are currently working to build a new stadium in San Jose.

The problem is that the identity of your stadium either gets forgotten or diminished in historical value. We affectionately call Kauffman “The K”. And I know that people try to come up with clever names like that to incorporate the name of the new corporate sponsor (“The Link” for Lincoln Financial Field in Philly), but do you really want to refer to it as “The Goo” if Google buys it? How about “The Vest” if Arvest Bank buys it? It’s not an improvement, it’s a shame.

The clothing company “No Mas” is capitalizing on this trend, and has a line of t-shirts they call “Naming Wrongs”. Here, disgruntled fans can buy a shirt that simply says “I STILL CALL IT COMISKEY”. Other baseball teams currently represented are the Mets and the Indians. Will I someday need to go online and buy a shirt that lets people know that I’m still calling it the K?

In the end, the name that’s hanging above the entrance does not have an effect (affect?) on the number of games the team wins. But it does have an impact on the fans. I truly believe that. It is their home away form home, and it ought to have a name that means something.

Stay current on all the Kings of Kauffman content and news by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or by way of our RSS feed.