Pacific Bell, long a stalwart California name, now is just one more discarded logo for trivia buffs after its parent company scrapped the names of all its operating units Tuesday in favor of initials: SBC.
SBC Communications Inc., the country's largest local phone company, made the change to present one brand to compete better against rivals moving into California and SBC's 12 other states.
"Adopting a single, unified SBC brand underscores our transformation from a collection of regional companies with separate identities into a national telecommunications leader with a single identity," said Chairman Edward E. Whitacre Jr.
The San Antonio company is awaiting approval to offer long- distance service in California, the nation's biggest market.
The company would not say what would happen to Pacific Bell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Pacific Bell agreed in 1996 to pay $50 million for naming rights to the new park for 24 years. The ball field opened in April 2000.
"It's going to be a big issue for us and the Giants," said SBC Senior Vice President David Nichols. "We're going to sit down and talk with them about that."
Larry Baer, Giants chief operating officer, said SBC had agreed for now not to change the park's name, though it has the right by contract.
"It's our home," Baer said. "It's where we clinched the National League pennant this year, where Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run in 2001.... That all happened in Pacific Bell Park."
A more important fiscal issue for SBC is whether it can continue to take $400 million a year out of the PacBell unit in transfers questioned by the California Public Utilities Commission.
After SBC acquired PacBell parent Pacific Telesis Group in 1997 in a $17-billion deal, it began charging an annual royalty "for use of the [SBC] corporate name." But the PUC questioned whether Pacific Bell derived any benefit from the SBC name.
Pacific Bell will remain the legal entity for regulatory purposes. The name also will remain on existing pay phones and equipment, such as service trucks, expected to be replaced next year. Otherwise, the company will take much of 2003 to replace the Pacific Bell logo.
Branding experts said SBC needed to consolidate the name to compete better against AT&T Corp., WorldCom Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. They said SBC has a strong presence and is well-respected.
SBC shares rose 1 cent to $25.70 on the New York Stock Exchange.