Monday, March 15, 2010

Name Dropping

Narragansett Councilman Christopher Wilkens recently inquired for the record whether naming rights could be sought for a new North Pavilion planned for the town beach. Expect more of the same as towns get desperate for cash after discovering that there aren’t any more pennies left in the taxpayer’s piggy banks. So why not sell off the sidewalks, the parking lots and the manhole covers to the highest bidder? By the next decade we’ll all be walking advertisements. (Some advice from my financial guru: The thighbone may be connected to the hipbone, but you’ll make more from the naming rights if you sell them separately.)

The council tabled the suggestion for another time, but the Pier’s willingness to consider going all NASCAR on us is a sign of the times. Maybe the town can entice the Narragansett Brewing Co. to sponsor the new pavilion. Not a bad idea if they’re willing to install taps. The Pier Imports Pavilion also has a certain ring, although my memories of that store are strangely dominated by a profusion of wicker.

Colleague Liz Boardman freelances as a naming rights columnist for Venues Today magazine. She passed along a couple of items recently:

Item 1: In January, the Irving City Council in Texas designated Kraft Macaroni & Cheese as the official sponsor for the demolition of Texas Stadium. Kraft foods got the naming rights for the implosion while the city received $75,000 in cold cash along with another $75,000 worth of Kraft products to be donated to local charities. That’s $150,000 in value for slapping the Kraft name onto the act of blowing up a football field. (Colleague Laura Kelly points out that the logo on the box of Kraft’s mac ’n’ cheese reads “The Cheesiest,” which seems a suitable epitaph for the whole idea of naming rights.)

Which begs the question, where was this kind of thinking in Rhode Island when we detonated the old Jamestown Bridge? Surely the Jiffy Pop Popcorn Pop-in-a-Pan/Jamestown Bridge Photo-Op-Drop Pop-in-a-Span could have netted a few Benjamins for the state’s barren coffers.

Item 2: Also in January, Comfort Dental, America’s largest dental franchise, won the rights for the next three years to change the name of the Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Denver to the Comfort Dental Amphitheatre. (Aside from Liz: “When do you suppose they’ll put on ‘Little Shop of Horrors?’”)

Of course, there is something unseemly about equating urban demolition with over-microwaving processed comfort food. And while Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre conjures up images of Irish musicians and Greek choruses, the best that can be said for Comfort Dental is that it promises a brighter, whiter stage and entertainment that is minty-fresh and cavity-free.

Closer to home, Great Woods lost some of its Thoreauvian New England soul once it became Tweeter (and now Comcast) Center. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center sounds more like a halfway house for people addicted to munchkins and crullers than a venue for concerts, minor league hockey and college basketball.

Still, if businesses are willing to shell out the dough and reduce the burden on taxpayers, why not put up all the state’s properties, holidays and administrative functions up for naming auction? Companies wouldn’t even have to change slogans.

Obey your thirst. (Formerly the Scituate Reservoir. Now the Sprite Reservoir.)
You’re in good hands. (Formerly the R.I. State House. Now the Allstate Insurance State House.)
So easy a caveman can do it.(The Governor’s State of the State address, now sponsored by GEICO.)

What Rhode Island institution should be re-branded if the price is right?