Spring arrives on Saturday. Yes, I know the groundhog saw its shadow, and yes, I know that technically the vernal equinox isn’t until March 20th. But, for me, Spring starts on Saturday. Because on Saturday, Mets pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.
Despite my excited anticipation for the upcoming season, there’s one thing about it that’s been driving me crazy: the politics surrounding the naming of the Mets’ new stadium: Citi Field.
Since the fall, politicians like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) have been making waves, complaining that the $400 million naming rights deal that Citi signed with the Mets in 2006 is irresponsible in light of Citi’s recent acceptance of bailout money from the government.
This all sounds logical and, as a result, other members of congress, as well as newspaper columnists and cable news talking heads have all bought into it. But there’s something you need to know: It’s all politics.
Or, alternatively: They’re all idiots.
Just to be clear, I’m not in favor of stadium naming rights deals in the abstract. If I had my way, Citi Field would be called Shea Stadium or Jackie Robinson Park (or, a more clever non-corporate-sounding name like “The Big Apple” — with Steve Jobs footing the bill). And, as much as I hate (no, abhor) the Yankees, I congratulate their ownership on keeping with tradition by naming its new stadium after its old one.
But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to point out nonsense when I see it. And what these members of congress and columnists and talking heads are spewing is pure, unadulterated, nonsense.
1. First, the Citi Field naming rights deal is a $400 million deal for 20-years. That’s $20 million per year. Citi received $45 BILLION in bailout funds. So, the bailout funds amount to 2,250 times the amount of one year of the naming rights deal. While obviously $20 million isn’t chump change, it truly is a drop in the bucket when compared to the bailout funds the government has dispensed.
2. The naming rights deal is something lawyers like to call a “binding contract.” I learned about these magical documents a couple of years ago and I imagine that even if you aren’t a lawyer and haven’t been a first-year law student, you probably still understand the consequences of such an agreement. So, it’s not exactly like Citi could walk over to Mets ownership and say, “Sorry, but you know that naming rights deal we had — we’re out,” and walk away without any ramifications.
While this all might sound silly — yes, in theory the Mets and Citi could negotiate a dissolving of the deal — the reality is that the goal for these bailed-out banks is to honor their commitments and show Wall Street, the rest of the country and the world, that they are solvent, profitable and sustainable. Breaching a binding contract isn’t the way to do this. Indeed, it would be tantamount to Citi admitting they couldn’t afford it, which would be effectively the same as filing for bankruptcy. How do you think the market is going to take that news?
3. The government didn’t bail out Citi so that Citi could fold. The government bailed out Citi because it wanted it to stay in business. One thing that a bank must do to stay in business is ADVERTISE. And this is an advertising deal.
I’m no advertising expert, but I would expect that while most people might say “there’s no way I’m going to put my money into Citibank because its name is on a stadium,” research must show that this works — otherwise why would the Phillies play at Citizens Bank Park? And why would the Syracuse Skychiefs play at Alliance Bank Stadium (when barely anyone goes to see their games anyway)?
Yes, naming rights in this economy seem to be a bit outrageous, but one has to assume that there was a reason that these naming rights deals existed before the economy tanked. If anything, when you think about it, they might actually be MORE important now.
4. Lastly, why is everyone picking on the Mets and Citi? Here’s a (limited) selection of other struggling banks that have naming rights deals right now (Information sourced from an article by Maury Brown on www.bizofbaseball.com):
Chase owns the naming rights to the stadium in which the Arizona Diamondbacks play their home games. They are receiving $25 billion in bailout money.
PNC owns the naming rights to the stadium in which the Pittsburgh Pirates play their home games. They are receiving $7.7 billion in bailout money.
Comerica owns the naming rights to the stadium in which the Detroit Tigers play their home games. They are receiving $2.25 billion in bailout money.
And finally, Bank of America is about to sign a stadium advertising deal (sans naming rights) with the New York Yankees (they also have similar, but likely less lucrative, agreements with nine other teams and Major League Baseball itself). They also own the naming rights to the stadium in which the NFL’s Carolina Panthers play their home games. They are receiving $45 billion in bailout money.
Although this doesn’t quite show that naming rights deals are proper in this economy, it does make it quite clear that the recent overtures from congress and columnists are just cases of politicians being politicians. Or, possibly, a case of some people in Washington having absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
So, I have an idea: Just shut up about the naming rights deals, and let the teams get ready for the season.
Let’s just play ball.