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Put Big E in Scorebook for Name Change

September 15, 1997|J.A. ADANDE

Edison International Field of Anaheim. By the time you finish saying it, the renovations will be finished.

Corporate stadium naming is an irreversible trend in sports, so there's no use resisting it. And if it's the compromise we must make to keep ticket prices cheaper than mortgage payments, so be it.

But Edison International Field of Anaheim? That's the name the Walt Disney Co. and the Edison International utility company reportedly will announce today as the new title for what we all know as Anaheim Stadium. Disney and the city of Anaheim spend $100 million to make the stadium look like an intimate, old-fashioned ballpark, then they sell it out for a name that does absolutely nothing to conjure up images of bats, balls and hot dogs. As Pomona resident Joseph Cardoza told The Times over the weekend, "It doesn't sound like the name of a baseball stadium. 'Edison International Field' sounds like it is an airport."

You might as well forget about the "of Anaheim" part. That was only included to satisfy a lease stipulation that says the city's name has to be in the title. You'll probably actually hear the full name only twice a season. Edison International Field of Anaheim is too long. People don't like long. How many folks have you heard mourn the loss of "Diana, Princess of Wales?" Exactly. It's "Princess Diana," just like it's Camden Yards (not Oriole Park at Camden Yards), just like it will be Edison Field.

So Anaheim's 30% investment in the stadium renovation buys it the right to be a forgotten suffix. Still, the city can't complain too much. Every story sent from the stadium to out-of-town newspapers will have an Anaheim dateline and refer to the Anaheim Angels. Saying a team played the Anaheim Angels at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim is overkill.

Aesthetics aside, it's not too hard to see why Disney would sell the rights to Edison for a reported $1.4 million per year for 20 years. Why, for a mere $500,000 a year I might sell you naming rights to my next of kin.

But I wonder why Edison would want to get into this. Forget about the potential headlines such as "Angels suffer power outage at Edison" when their bats go silent. How will it look when, as inevitably happens at every stadium, there is a problem with the lights? Surely, Edison will be quick to point out that Edison Field does not actually use Edison power--it's supplied by the city.

It used to be that crass commercialism belonged strictly to the NASCAR circuit. Now it's swept into team sports, to the point where you can even see the ubiquitous Nike swoosh on uniforms.

If anyone's responsible for this trend of teams and stadiums as billboards, it's the college football bowl games. A few years ago, the bowls saw the chance for more bucks and it wasn't too long before we had such atrocities as the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl. Then it seemed like every airline had to get an NBA arena named after it.

For new buildings with no history, a corporate name is a little more tolerable. It hurts a little more when an existing stadium with a unique name, like Candlestick Park, loses its name to some company like 3Com. What's a 3Com?

The most coldhearted, greedy act is to cash in the title of a stadium named for someone, like Jack Murphy Stadium. I always had a fondness for that stadium, which was named after a sportswriter. Now, instead of honoring a man, San Diego pays homage to Qualcomm. What's a Qualcomm?

John Kent Cooke deserves praise for turning down corporate dollars to name the Washington Redskins' new stadium after his father, who fought desperately for a decade to build a stadium in the Washington area, only to die months before its completion. (Now, if they'll just do something about the team's offensive nickname).

The problem with corporate names is they don't lead to stability. Sports has enough change as it is. Players and coaches come and go and the least we could ask is to keep the name of the building the same. But not in this day of mergers and leveraged buyouts. Boston's new arena changed names before it even opened, when FleetBank took over Shawmut Bank, which held the naming rights.

Company profit margins and advertising strategies change, as well, leading to a revolving door of names. The Fiesta Bowl has gone through Sunkist, IBM and now Tostitos. At least Tostitos has a reasonable link to "Fiesta." And to celebrate their sponsorship, the folks at Tostitos sent boxes of chips and salsa to college football writers around the country. (Hmmm. I could use a few light bulbs. Just a thought).

The only good thing about the rash of new names is the trend toward old descriptions, like field and park. It's much more charming than stadium, just like the old Gardens and Forums sounded so much better than the increasingly common "center" for indoor arenas.

But corporate sponsors are getting smarter. Arrowhead spent big bucks for the naming rights to another facility in Anaheim, only to see it constantly referred to as The Pond. For most people, it's The Forum. It doesn't have to be Great or Western. The only adjective it ever needed was Fabulous. Now companies work their names into the stadium title in a way that makes it impossible to remove them. There's no getting around America West Arena or the RCA Dome.

Ultimately, however, the public and the media decide what a stadium will be called. Thirty-one years have passed, the Rams have come and gone, the stadium was closed and reopened and one thing hasn't changed. No matter what a company and its money might try to call it, it's still the Big A.

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