Friday, August 01, 2008

The Brooklyn Ratners or the Ratner Nets? What if team names in the U.S. were more like those in Japan?

This is the fifth of a multi-part interview (conducted May 28) with Neil deMause (photo below), the Brooklyn-based co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit, and writer of the companion web site. He testified at a 3/29/07 Congressional hearing that questioned taxpayer financing of stadiums, convention centers, and hotels.

Q. I noticed in your book that you think a more honest approach to the names of sports teams would be the Japanese one, taking the names of owners, so we'd have the Steinbrenner Yankees or the Turner Braves--or, I might add, the Ratner Nets.

[Japanese team names include the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, named for major shareholder Nippon Ham, and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, named for SoftBank.]

A. The teams are named for the corporations that own them. But then so are the New York Red Bulls, because they’re owned by Red Bull sports drink. The WNBA Connecticut Sun are owned by the Mohegan Sun casino and play there, basically bought and moved there to be a selling point for the casino.

There was talk at one point of moving the Grizzlies, when they were moving to Memphis, where FedEx is based, and naming them the Memphis Express, and that would be part of the naming rights deal.

[Actually, the NBA forbids corporate nicknames.]

There’s the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim [now just the Anaheim Ducks], who were named after a Disney movie and [formerly] owned by Disney. It’s just not quite as blatant is it is in Japan. At this point the stadiums are all named after corporations. At this point, the teams are corporate names. What are the New York Yankees if not a corporation? They just happen to be named after themselves.

And in Brooklyn?

Q. So, in Brooklyn, [if the Nets move,] it should be the Brooklyn Ratners?

A. Maybe the Brooklyn Barclays. There’s no reason not to do that, except I think there’s still a little bit of squeamishness among fans about having that much of a corporate name. You could be wearing this on your hat and shirt, you don’t want it to be just a corporate logo.

Again, we’re breaking new ground. In international soccer they do it, in auto racing they do it. I think we’re headed in that direction. I think certainly the logos on the uniforms at some point. So if, 20 years down the road, the Nets may have a uniform that says Nets in small letters, and--I’m trying to think of a big Brooklyn company--

Q. KeySpan [actually, now NationalGrid]

A. --and say KeySpan in big letters, what’s the [real] team name?

Sports, or business?

Q. Bettina Damiani [of the watchdog Good Jobs New York] calls the teams “sports entertainment corporations.”

A. I think that’s a fair way of putting it. It’s an entertainment industry, just as much as the movie business is. It happens to be around sports, but they could as easily be selling something else. Half the time they are selling something else. They’re clothing companies as much as they’re sports teams. They’re selling jerseys. On some level, the teams are just the hook for the merchandise--

Q. --That’s why Brett Yormark is there--the marketing guru for the Nets.

A. --in the same way that Hannah Montana is less a TV show than a toy line. I think there’s a level on which sports teams are less sports teams than they are souvenir marketing devices.

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