Putting a household name on O's naming rights drive

Commentary

July 20, 2000|By John Eisenberg

It's simple, really. The Orioles don't want to change the name of their ballpark, but they do want the money they could get for changing the name of their ballpark.

In other words, we'd better start getting used to the idea of Geritol Park at Camden Yards, or AARP Field, or some new, fiscally correct name for the place where the Orioles play.

Oh, sure, there's a chance it won't happen. What the Orioles really want is a sweeter lease agreement with the Maryland Stadium Authority, if that's possible, because the Ravens bought the naming rights to their stadium for $10 million and sold the rights for $105.5 million three years ago, and the Orioles want a piece of that pie.

That's why they're going to arbitration with the stadium authority over their lease and trying to put a value on the naming rights to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

They want the windfall, one way or another, with or without the naming rights.

And as you may have noticed, when anyone in sports smells a windfall today, traditions and "the way things used to be" tend to end up in shambles.

Say hello to Fortune .500 Field at Camden Yards.

Or Oriole Park at Camden Yards Presented by Gumout.

Kind of depreciates the "turn back the clock" game-going experience, huh?

The Orioles are vehemently denying that they intend to change the name, of course, which is a little like saying they smoked but didn't inhale when they're admittedly seeking to assign a value to the naming rights before the arbitration hearing. They'd love us to believe it's just a theoretical financial exercise, but come on.

If the rights are worth $100 million and the club got them, it could either sell them for that or just add them to the value of the franchise if owner Peter G. Angelos preferred to let his successor take the PR hit for changing the name.

Why is everyone so reluctant to admit interest in the idea? If you claim to have a classic park in the tradition of Ebbets Field and Fenway Park, you look like a schmuck if you sell the name to the highest bidder.

It's OK for all those knockoffs in Denver and San Francisco and Milwaukee to sell out for a corporate name, but the original, a landmark piece of architecture, should be held to a higher standard.

PSINet Stadium isn't as offensive because Art Modell's move from Cleveland to Baltimore was the ultimate example of the money-eats-tradition sports food chain, so why not just go all the way? And let's face it, as nice as the place is, it's just a football stadium.

The Orioles' home is more than that, a special place, a jewel of the game.

Sure, it was built only because Edward Bennett Williams wanted to multiply his revenues and the value of the franchise, so it's also a shrine to profit-making.

But in fulfilling Williams' goals, the Orioles, the stadium authority and the architects exceeded all expectations and built a classic, a ballpark that reinvented the game.

Selling out the name would make the Orioles look crass, greedy and other, assorted adjectives. It wasn't Ringling Brothers' Ebbets Field, it isn't the Amtrak Metroliner Rose Bowl, and Verizon Wireless Park at Camden Yards would be awful.

On the other hand (cough, cough), the money would be awfully good, and you know the Orioles are wondering just how bad the hit could be when the whole sports world is selling out and every ballpark name is being sold for millions.

Hey, Orioles fans would gladly accept Rolaids Park at Camden Yards if the front office finally agreed to make the club younger, faster and more energetic in return.

If you recall, the name wasn't wildly embraced when it was first announced nine years ago. Oriole Park at Camden Yards? It wasn't a name, it was a sentence. No one could believe the mouthful.

What it really was, of course, was a compromise. Orioles owner Eli Jacobs wanted Oriole Park. Then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer wanted Camden Yards. They agreed to disagree, leading to the first ballpark name with a sharp right turn in the middle.

And to think some of us were offended by that minor weirdness.

Within a few years, stadium names were being sold for millions to corporations, and the likes of Coors Field was being shoved down our throats. Oriole Park at Camden Yards sounded a lot better.

The Orioles' timing was wrong, that's all. They missed the naming-rights gravy train, and now they're just trying to hop on.

They don't want to change the name. There's only negative publicity in that scenario, and they already have enough of that.

But the money is big, so there has to be a way, and as always, there is. Imagine this ending: The Orioles get their windfall. Then they change the name to Comcast Park at Camden Yards. Then they tell the fans, "We took care of you! You can still call it Camden Yards!"

Yes? Yes?

In today's sports world, it would qualify as a victory for good taste and the common man.

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