Sixers stop using arena’s corporate name, does this mean we can too?

I go back and forth on whether to use corporate names of sports venues on this site — on the one hand, it’s silly not to use the name that everyone uses for a building, on the other, with constantly changing names half the time regular humans just call it “the [name of team] stadium” anyway. But the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers just potentially blew up the whole naming-rights game, by declaring that they’re no longer going to refer to their arena by it’s corporate-designated name, because the corporation in question isn’t one of their sponsors:

The Sixers have decided to stop referring to the Wells Fargo Center by name in all news releases and on the team website because the financial institution chose not to become a business partner with the basketball franchise.

This season, the 76ers started referring to the 20,000-seat arena simply as The Center…

Chris Heck, chief revenue officer of the 76ers, said the team values its partners and tries to maximize its relationships.

“We also continue to enjoy our relationship with Comcast Spectacor as tenants at a world-class arena, but that particular bank is currently not a sponsor of the Philadelphia 76ers,” Heck said.

So a bit of background: Comcast Spectacor is not only a giant cable and arena management company, but also owner of the Flyers, who own Philadelphia’s arena. Wells Fargo is the bank that bought Wachovia, which in turn bought First Union Bank, which bought CoreStates Bank, which agreed to pay $2 million a year through the year 2024 to slap its name, or that of its successors, on the building. Since the 76ers aren’t getting any of that money, and are free to sign up their own “official bank of the 76ers” that may not be Wells Fargo, why should they agree to use the name?

It’s a reminder of the ephemeral nature of corporate naming rights, in which tens or even hundreds of millions change hands for something that depends on regular people agreeing to actually go along with the paid nomenclature. Ever since the Denver Post caved in on trying to call the Broncos‘ new stadium “Mile High Field” rather than whatever its naming-rights sponsor wanted, the supremacy of paid names has been mostly unquestioned. However, the 76ers’ move — which is unlikely to be widely replicated, since most teams are the ones getting the naming-rights fees, but anyway — is a reminder that while you can put a big sign on a building, you can’t force people to say the words.

Already, Deadspin has announced its intentions to follow suit — “the next time you read us writing about something occurring at Tropicana Field, feel free to (politely) drop into the comments and remind us that we aren’t getting free juice boxes, and that it’s actually the Florida Suncoast Dome” — and you have to wonder if other corporate-sponsorship-hungry media outlets will eventually follow suit. Though come to think of it, a world where every website uses its own name for things based on who paid them for it is even scarier than the one we already have. It all just makes me want to crawl back into Sleepy’s Mattress bed.

9 comments on “Sixers stop using arena’s corporate name, does this mean we can too?

  1. Philadelphia-area resident here. I have noticed that our local all news radio station will occasionally refer to teams playing at “The Center” or in “South Philadelphia” but I am not sure if they are consistently doing that.

    On a somewhat related note, is it possible that naming rights deals are just a tax scam. They seemed to have originated back in the mid 90s about the same time that the laws were changed concerning luxury box and ticket write offs.

    If MegaBank can’t write off there boxes any more, maybe they overpay for naming rights (which can be deducted) and the team throws in a free box. Which would explain the proliferation of sub-naming deals: The Chrsyler-Jeep Gate, etc.

  2. I am a Wells Fargo customer via many acquisitions since I started as a Farmer’s Bank customer when I was 12 years old (over 50 years ago). I am glad Wells Fargo is not spending their money that way although I think they might still be sponsoring some of the college games. What really bothers me is I think we subsidize these types of deals through our tax code with business deductions and exemptions. I would rather the banks spend their money on identity theft protection, lower interest rates for loans, and higher interest rates for CDs, etc Our tax code gives corporate executives carte blanche to spend like kids in a candy store and claim deductions and exemptions as a legitimate business expense.

  3. FYI, Wells Fargo is still paying the Flyers $2 million a year, it just isn’t paying the 76ers anything.

  4. I wonder if the Sixers would be down with the arena deciding they weren’t going to display the Sixers newly updated logo but would stick with the old one?

    Honestly, I’m surprised that calling the arena by whatever the official name is wasn’t written into whatever agreements the Sixers have to play there. Bet you that will be in there the next time the agreement is updated.

  5. The Oakland Coliseum. New Comiskey. The Big A. Jacobs Field. The Ballpark in Arlington. Tho that can be confusing to the younger generation who never heard these terms. Personally it’s trickier with things like the new Mets & Twins stadiums – do we call them “New Shea” or “New Met”? Doesn’t matter – it’s going to be called something else eventually & nicknames are more fun. Or we could just call them “Mets ballpark” or “Twinkies field” or “Brewer dome”. I still call them the California Angels because I’m old & I don’t care.

  6. “Honestly, I’m surprised that calling the arena by whatever the official name is wasn’t written into whatever agreements the Sixers have to play there. Bet you that will be in there the next time the agreement is updated.”

    Yup. There’s a reason why that “Buy the Book” link above goes to University of Nebraska Press’s site, after all.

    And this will likely prevent media partners from ditching corporate names as well — ESPN isn’t going to want it to become an issue next time they bid for NBA TV rights. For the vast number of outlets that just cover sports, not pay to air it, though, there’s really no reason not to say “Mets ballpark” or whatever.

    I have a somewhat longer piece going up at Vice Sports about this very issue in half an hour or so — will post a link here once it’s live.

  7. Who wants to bet that the Sixer’s move to a $350 million area in Camden courtesy of NJ taxpayers. The team owners are paying chess here. This is the second pawn that they moved. Taking their practice facility to Camden was the first, although that might be more of a bishop than a pawn.

  8. KenzoJoe, there have been rumours about Camden (and The Prudential Center), but I seem to recall the Sixers lease runs through 2029. And I don’t think Ed Snider would have been foolish enough to change that when he sold the team.

  9. As a Sixers fan, I miss the days when they played at the Wackoff (Wachovia) and the Eff U. (First Union).