December 11, 2013
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Thursday, January 31, 2013
Ten years ago today, the White Sox got a new place to play. No wait, check that—they played in the same place, but they just started calling it something different.
On Jan. 31, 2003, the White Sox sold the naming rights to their stadium to U.S. Cellular phone company. From this day forward, what had been known as Comiskey Park II would now be U.S. Cellular Field—The Cell for short.
A team naming a field after a corporation was nothing new. The Cubs have long played in Wrigley Field, a stadium whose name has a not at all coincidental connection to the gum. But that’s different; the team was owned by the Wrigley family for decades and the stadium was named after the owner, not the company. Many stadiums were named after owners.
I once heard that when the Busch family bought the Cardinals in the 1950s, they wanted to rename Sportsman’s Park after Budweiser, the main product their brewery made. However, baseball lords opposed it, thinking it too gauche. So instead the stadium was renamed Busch after the owner—and then a year or two later they came out with Busch beer for the first time. Times have changed.
However, a new era began in the 1990s, when teams began selling the naming rights to long-existing places—and this time it was solely to raise more revenue for the clubs. In 1996, three National League teams changed their stadium names to gain corporate money. Thus Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium became Cinergy Field, San Francisco's horrible Candlestick Park became the horribly named 3Com Park, and Florida’s Joe Robbie Stadium became Pro Player Stadium.
In many ways, this was an outgrowth of the new generation of stadiums. With places like Camden Yards pumping in tremendous tons of cash, those without new stadiums began looking for ways to make more money with their older stadiums. Of course, it didn’t have to be one or the other. You could have a new stadium and sell naming rights, too. In 1998, Arizona did just that with Bank One Ballpark. Two years later Houston did likewise with Enron Field.
By the time the Sox changed the name of Comiskey to The Cell, naming rights were an established fact in major league baseball. In some ways the Sox have been fortunate. Unlike some teams, they’ve managed to keep the same corporate sponsor, and it’s one that hasn’t embarrassed the team. Houston ought to be jealous. First, its stadium is named after the most scandalous corporation of the 21st century (Enron) and the replacement sponsor has a name that just doesn’t sound right for a major league park: Minute Maid.
Other places keep bouncing back from nickname to nickname. The new Giants stadium is already on its third sponsor: Pacific Bell, SBC, and now AT&T. (And that’s on top of 3Com naming their old stadium.) The Marlins' original stadium had five or six names in under 20 years: Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium (yes, they changed the stadium name to singular for some reason), Land Shark and Sun Life. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the current incarnation of every stadium name. When it changes this much, it’s hardly worth the corporate dough, because when names are that transitory it’s too easy to forget them.
But the South Side of Chicago has kept the U.S. Cellular name—and kept it for exactly 10 years now.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today have their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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