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.