Notes from Wonderland: This space for rent

Sports are a big business. That doesn't come as a shock to anyone. Salaries, ticket prices and advertising revenue are skyrocketing with no end in sight. Even with ticket prices at an all time high and television exposure saturating the airwaves, teams are still struggling to bring in money. It is getting pretty ridiculous, but I'm afraid it's just beginning.

Pro sports are bad enough with stadium naming rights, PSL's and every facet of the team's broadcast for sale. We have stadiums called Qualcomm, Pac Bell, America West, Bank One, Cinnergy and Pro Player. What is a Qualcomm and why do the Dolphins play in a stadium named after a Fruit of the Loom product?

I already banked at Bank One, so you'd think I'd get a discount or something for Diamondback games. In fact, since these teams do not pay me to advertise their stadiums I still feel that the Padres play at Jack Murphy, the Dolphins play at Joe Robbie, the Reds at Riverfront and the 49ers still compete at Candlestick. Since the new stadiums have no old names I'm stuck, but I usually get all the Comms and Rons and airlines confused and just say, "the new Milwaukee field," or "the Houston park with the train."

It's even worse in college. Teams aren't owned by billionaires and schools like Arizona have to actually break even in the books. Jim Livengood and his staff have done a great job at not totally selling out, but it is only a matter of time I'm afraid. Although McKale has retained its name, they took a page out of NASCAR's playbook and every inch of advertising space has been utilized.

The Eddie Lynch Pavilion is a great big gem on the north side of McKale. The state of the art facility is critical to the survival of the athletic department, but it came with a hefty price tag. The administration did a great job getting it paid for but the trend is a bit unsettling. Eddie Lynch donated a ton of money to build it. Jim Click ponied up some cash and got the new hall of champions to bear his name. Even the pathway to the front doors is lined with the names of contributors who shelled out some serious coin to sponsor a cement tile.

Is everything sponsored in the pavilion? Do we have the Bob Beaudry weight bench? The Joe Christiani water fountain? Is the front door sponsored by Steve Kerr?

While I have no problem with this, it could start a disturbing trend. We already have the Circle K red zone at Arizona stadium, how long before we hear this on a Wildcat broadcast:

"Walton with a Pepsi inbounds to Gardner. Gardner dribbles past the Kalil time line and passes to Stoudamire who drives the Alltel baseline and kicks to Anderson at the top of the Wieser Lock key. Anderson finds Frye who goes off the Windex glass for two. According to the Fox Sports scoreboard Arizona leads 45-40 with 12:00 left on the Timex game clock."

And what about Arizona Stadium? How long before the ‘gray old lady' gets a corporate name? I fear it is only a matter of time before we have games played on Toyota field at Sony stadium as presented by Dominoes Pizza. With the red zone in place how long before we have the Carl's Jr. midfield and the Culligan endzone? Will MasterCard pay for the naming rights to the sidelines?

It could get even worse, they could actually sell  parts of the game.

Brian Jefferies: "Rierson sets, the pitch…his Compaq fastball is in there for a strike."

Ryan Radtke: "You know Brian, I think that may have been a Best Buy curve."

Jefferies: "Now that I look at the KFC radar gun it may well have been a Best Buy curve ball or possibly a Lay-Z Boy off speed pitch."

I guess it could disintegrate even worse. With the amount of money Phil Knight pumps into Oregon, how long before they must change their name to the Swoosh? Even worse what if he buys the naming rights to the whole school? I fear it's only a matter of time before the University of Nike-Oregon Swooshes play the Microsoft-Seattle Huskies for a birth in the AT&T Rose Bowl against the University of Michigan Chevrolets as presented by the UAW.

Corporate sponsorships are not all bad. With the bowls being sponsored the paydays are bigger. Athletic departments can actually become profitable by hanging up a ton of ads and letting Nike or Reebok pay the school to wear free apparel and shoes.

It is still not as bad as boxing which is tattooing boxers with ads or NASCAR which places ads on shock absorbers so the wheel cam can pick up a UPS logo while showing tire wear. At least we don't hear Jason Gardner giving NASCAR style postgame interviews:

"We played really good today," Gardner would say while sipping a Pepsi and donning a Goodyear cap. "The Dupont coaching staff did a great job getting us ready for the Paramount Trojans. I'd like to thank Channing and Luke, plus Pepsi, Doritos, Pizza Hut and all the guys at ESPN."

On a final note, this column is available for corporate sponsorship. I will gladly sell out for a free pair of shoes. The "Safeway Notes From Wonderland" has a nice ring to it. Besides myself, my dogs and my future children all have available naming rights at bargain prices. The Gap Allis is a pretty name. I can go to the park and call for my dogs Oxyclean and Wal-Mart, while little McDonalds sits in her stroller while her big brother Raytheon goes off to play on the swings. All you corporate types just think about it, okay?


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