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Mike Downey

Event Names No Longer Are Givens

June 21, 1989|Mike Downey

It finally happened. I warned the boss it would happen, and it happened.

We had a big argument about this, and he won. He won because he's the boss. But, let's see what the boss does now, and I don't mean Bruce Springsteen.

Our argument began when a certain banking concern in California paid a pretty penny to buy an interest in a certain arena that is used for Laker basketball, King hockey, Lazer soccer, boxing, volleyball, tennis, various concerts and Ice Capade, Snoopy on Skates-type things.

Part of the banking firm's investment entitled it to rename the arena from the plain old Forum to the Great Western Forum. Which was OK by me. You own a building, you ought to be able to call it anything you want. Jerry Buss could have called it Jerry's Forum or Jerry's Playhouse or Jerry's Really Cool Inglewood Building, you know.

I was simply happy that the banking company's name blended in so nicely. After all, some other bank could have bought the joint. The Lakers just have easily could have ended up playing in the Security Pacific Forum, or the Mitsui Manufacturers Forum, or even the Downey Savings Forum. (Hey, not bad.)

But since the Forum certainly was Great, and since it certainly was Western, I figured everybody made out OK.

The boss, though, decided that he was not in the business of giving free publicity to commercial interests. I presume that I am representing his views accurately here. He intended to continue calling the Forum the Forum, just as he would continue leaving the Sunkist off the Fiesta Bowl, the Mobil off the Cotton Bowl.

The boss is a purist, see. A traditionalist. This stuff offends him.

And he is not alone. Radio and television stations also declined to use the sponsors' names. The Lakers still played at the Forum, and Notre Dame did not win any football games subsidized by the giant of the citrus industry.

What if Peter O'Malley sold half his stadium to, say, Burger King? What if the Dodgers suddenly played in Whopper Dodger Stadium? The boss wanted to know what I thought of that.

I told him I thought that was Peter O'Malley's privilege. I told him Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium were named not only after men, but gum and beer makers. Why do we give free publicity to Doublemint and Michelob? Why don't we say the Chicago Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, 5-3, at Field or Stadium?

I told him if Ray and Joan Kroc could have their stadium named after a former sportswriter, they certainly could have it named after their burger business.

He told me he had to draw the line somewhere, because what if the Krocs decided to call their team the San Diego McDonald's Padres?

I told him we already publicize Virginia Slims, and tobacco is worse than fast food. I told him the Sacramento Kings of professional basketball already play in ARCO Arena, so how come it is all right to give free publicity to petroleum products but not to burgers and fries?

He told me he couldn't stand the notion of promoting the Nabisco Wimbledon championships, or the STP Indy 500, or the Quaker Oats Kentucky Derby.

I told him his own company co-sponsored a track meet with Chrysler's Eagle car and for many years co-ran a Grand Prix of Endurance auto race with Ford. The track meet, in fact, was held at the Forum.

The poor Great Western people, I suspect they wonder why they cannot get their money's worth. Of late they have taken to mailing free knickknacks to media figures such as myself, coffee mugs and coasters that are meant to serve not as bribes, but as cute little reminders that the Forum has a new name.

They can have them back if they like, because I have been on their side all along. I will let you know, by the way, if the chief spokesperson for the bank, Dennis Weaver, ever comes riding up to my house on his horse with a saddlebag full of payola.

In the meantime, something has come up.

It was just announced Monday, much to my amusement. Let's see the boss get out of this one.

It seems that the John Hancock insurance companies took an active economic interest a while ago in the Sun Bowl college football game. Hardly one of the biggies, the Sun Bowl obviously needed whatever backing it could get, the Sun Bowl being one of those bowls that invites teams that win six of their 11 games.

Anyhow, much to John Hancock's distress, the press and general public kept referring to the game as the plain old Sun Bowl. Everybody at the company was irritated by this. John Hancock himself was so upset, his signature became illegible.

So, have the insurance folks withdrawn their financial support? No, they have not.

Instead, they have announced that from now on, they are calling the game the John Hancock Bowl. That's right: There goes the Sun.

Aha! I said. Let's see the boss wiggle out of this one.

Pretty soon, other companies will catch on. By next New Year's Day, bowl games will be dropping the Cotton, Sugar and Gator labels. FTD will be ringing up the Rose Bowl people. Television will return to the days of the "Texaco Star Theater," "Colgate Comedy Hour" and "Gillette Cavalcade of Sports."

Some greedy boxer is bound to adopt a corporate sponsor, become something on the order of Marvelous Marvin Miller High Life Hagler. (If you can name yourself Marvelous, you can name yourself anything else.) Also, certain embarrassments are inevitable, as when Preparation H decides to sponsor a bicycle race.

I don't know what the boss intends to do about all this, but I suspect he does know what he will do first.

He'll make me cover the stupid John Hancock Bowl, that's what he'll do.

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