Saturday, August 17, 2013

Name Game

It was bound to happen.  Most major sports venues have corporate names or logos attached to them.  But when it happens in your home town, the dart stings just a little bit more.
In Portland, The Trailblazers are the only major pro team in town.  In the "Rose City" their arena was aptly named The Rose Garden.  Nobody ever got it confused with the famous literal rose garden in Washington Park.  Both draw millions of visitors yearly.

It's the corporate name that sticks in the craw. In this case it's now called the Moda arena in honor of a health care system that paid $40 million to advertise their name and remove the neon roses that light the arena now.  Of all the recent reactions to this news locally there is one that stands out as most amusing.  Up here we have a product called "Dave's Killer Bread."  It's a healthy loaf that comes in various incarnations of whole grains and named for it's founder, Dave, who turned his life around after being a recovering heroin addict and doing some hard prison time.  Dave learned the value of eating a healthy diet and his passion and product have led to great success.  So, it follows that someone wrote a letter to the editor of The Oregonian newspaper suggesting the name "Dave's Killer Arena."
I'm troubled.  Deeply troubled, but in no way surprised.  After all, as a culture, that's who we are.  Everything has its price and what the people want doesn't matter.  Often it's laughed at.  Power diminishes empathy.
The funny thing is, though, the name might be purchased, but most folks will eschew the new name and keep on using the old one.  For them, nothing has changed.
This phenomena, in all it's ludicrous ramifications, applies in most sports and not with just arenas.  A few years back the Kentucky Derby naming rights went to Yum Brands.  Officially it is now referred to as "The Kentucky Derby, presented by Yum."  But who really says that.  Only the broadcasters and journalists that are forced to.  I love how the notion that some things cannot be bought and sold lives on.
The irony of a health care system spending $40 million on advertising, while many folks can't afford health care has not been lost on anyone here in the rose city.  It's now just a daily reminder of just exactly what matters and how much in this culture.
I recall a book and then a couple of film versions of "Rollerball."  This distopic novel featured an international sports scene where there were no more countries just corporations who owned everything.  Rollarball was a combination of soccer/football played by armed men on motorcycles who tried to maneuver a huge steel ball-bearing into a net.  Much like a very lethal hockey game.  In this brave new world, people often died while the game was being played.
When I look around these days, I see we are well on our way to making that future a reality.

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