A lot of interesting reader feedback came in response to last week’s item about the thwarted plans of Memphis-based FedEx to buy the rights to rename the Vancouver Grizzlies the Express as part of the team’s proposed move to Tennessee. Mostly, people pointed toward various prior examples of the blurry line between professional teams and specific companies.
For example, Angie D. noted that the logo used by the Pittsburgh Steelers is a modified version of one created by U.S. Steel Corp. (which is now USX Corp. and has a different logo). A couple of readers set me straight on the passing reference to the Detroit Pistons: The name doesn’t simply refer to a regional industry, but rather very specifically to a business owned by team founder Fred Zollner. Described as an “automobile piston magnate” on the team’s site, he called his club, which was founded in 1941, the Zollner Pistons; they were based in Fort Wayne, Ind., and did not move to Detroit until 1957.
On the subject of the Seattle SuperSonics, reader Eli L. suggested I clarify that team name’s relationship to erstwhile hometown corporate hero Boeing. According to the Sonics’ site: “During the late 1960’s, Boeing had proposed the building of a Concorde-style airplane. The new plane was [to] be known as the ‘SuperSonic Transport.’ “
Reader Peter K. made a point that was actually brought up in a Slate “Sports Nut” entry last year on the subject of the possibility of buying rights to name teams: Many Japanese baseball teams essentially represent companies, not geographic locales. For instance, the Kintetsu Buffaloes, based in Osaka, Japan, are owned by Kintetsu Railways.
Finally, Edward F. e-mailed to tell me about this January article from Business Week, which perhaps offers limited solace to those annoyed with the trend toward selling stadium-naming rights. Of 13 firms that have slapped their names on NFL stadiums, 11 saw stock price declines last year. The worst example, of course, was TWA, which in 1995 paid some $36.7 million for naming rights to the St. Louis Rams’ stadium. This branding coup did not do much to save TWA from filing for bankruptcy and selling its assets to American Airlines, which then prompted the February announcement of the end of this particular sponsorship: “Our relationship with the Rams has been exciting and very beneficial to everyone at TWA,” an executive deadpanned in a press release. “However, with the pending sale of TWA’s assets to a new owner, the marketing of the TWA brand through sponsorship of a stadium bearing our name no longer makes the best business sense.”
There’s one for the corporate understatement highlight reel.