Arco Arena (via Jocie SF)Teams can change the name on the outside of the building. But they can't change what we call it.
Midway through last year’s NBA season, my hometown Sacramento Kings announced a name change for their building. What had been Arco Arena since the team’s arrival in 1985 would now be known as Power Balance Pavilion.
Not Power Bar, which tastes like flavored pressboard but at least delivers its promised effects. Power Balance, as in the marketers of so-called "energy" wristbands, who recently shelled out $57 million in a class action lawsuit settlement, then filed for bankruptcy, after acknowledging that their product's claims are entirely without scientific merit. Given the Kings' own history of unfulfilled promise (last year's slogan: "Here We Rise"; last year's record: 24-58), it's a sadly fitting marriage. But I digress.
To locals, the change was sudden, clumsy and, frankly, inconvenient. Around here, Arco isn't an oil company, it’s where our team plays. It’s where, in our short-lived but glorious heyday of the early 2000s, "we" challenged—albeit briefly and unsuccessfully—the supremacy of the reviled Lakers, clanging cowbells so rabidly and obnoxiously that Phil Jackson and his coaching staff wore earplugs on the visitors’ bench. (Doing nothing to dispel Sacramento’s image as a hick town, I might add, but that’s a topic for another post on regional identity.)
So when the building signs were hastily replaced and the hardwood floors lacquered with new logos, we fans were resigned to the name change ... and kept right on calling it Arco. (And yes, I’m well aware of the irony of rejecting one corporate namesake in favor of another. But, understand, the old name is attached to our memories now. It’s firmly established in our local lexicon.)
This is the reality of sports in the big money, corporate entertainment era, and we’re certainly not the first—or the last—fan base to wrestle with this. In San Francisco, the 49er faithful make their weekly pilgrimage to Candlestick (not 3Com, not Monster) Park. Boston built an entirely new facility and leased its name to TD Banknorth, but fans still watch their beloved Celtics and Bruins in "The Garden."
Teams can supplement their revenue by selling the signage on the outside of the stadium. What they can’t do, not by decree alone anyway, is change our vernacular.
Who gets naming rights to our sporting complexes? We do.