You don't have to be much, if any, of a sports fan to appreciate the loss of regional identities over the past decade at the hands of the corporate naming rights phenomenon. Goodbye Comiskey Park, hello U.S. Cellular Field. Goodbye to names that could be immediately identified with a city, hello bland and anonymous titles that could be (and might as well be) any city in the country. You didn't need a map to figure out where the Astrodome, Hoosier Dome, or Three Rivers Stadium were. But the Staples Arena, FedEx Field, Petco Park, and Monster.com Field could as easily be in Dallas as in Shanghai (those are all real stadiums, by the way…if you can tell me where they're located without using Google, we have prizes for you).
The really sad part about it is that the phenomenon is spreading. "Naming rights" are suddenly being identified as valuable intellectual property in everything from public parks to schools. In the latter, or the educational system more broadly defined, naming rights are apparently what conservatives have in mind when they say that the free market would step in and make up the money that state legislatures no longer provide.
Public universities traditionally have two options for increasing their revenue: get more money from the state or raise tuition. As neither are feasible these days, gathering up the buildings on campus and selling the names like Monopoly cards is the next best option. The virus has only spread to stadiums and athletic facilities right now, but more than a few schools (including the cash-strapped University of Texas system) are considering crossing the line. So while Boise State University, long considered a unique and independent-minded school (Smurf Turf and all), now holds its concerts and ballgames at the Taco Bell Arena (let me repeat that….Taco Bell Arena) its students may someday be able to dine in the Nokia-Doritos Cafeteria before heading to class in the Axe Body Spray presents Psychology Hall. For now, Ohio State kids watch their ballgames in the Value City Department Stores Arena, but if they're lucky they may also get to live in Dr. Pepper Xtreme Dorms someday. Hell, maybe they can just sell the name of the entire school. "Indiana University – Bloomington" doesn't quite have the zing of Pepsi State at Bloomington, does it?
The sad thing is that in 30 years, when everything on the planet has a corporate sponsor and logo on it, the people who make excuses for it now will be among the loudest complainants. I suspect it will be my advanced age, not any adherence to the "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" principle, that will prevent me from smacking them.