As we head into the home stretch of the baseball season, a lot of attention will be focused on Chicago. The Cubs are looking very non-Cubs like as they continue to dominate the NL Central on their way to what could be an exciting playoff run.
In the meantime, it’s a tale of two Chicago teams. On the south side, the hapless White Sox are wrapping up a miserable season. It started out strong – in April, the team had the best record in baseball. By the All-Star break, it was virtually over. So the crowds are dwindling as the ChiSox finish out the season. And as is usually the case in Chicago, the city is totally captivated by the Cubbies.
But to make matters worse, the White Sox are now in the process of messing with one of their primary assets – their stadium, and specifically, its name. And it’s not the first time. For decades, it was known as legendary Comiskey Park. But back in 1991, management cut a deal to rename the place U.S. Cellular Field – or The Cell. Despite the generic sponsor and the fact U.S. Cellular no longer services Chicago, The Cell has proved to be somewhat catchy. No, it’s not Wrigley Field, but at least it had a distinct nickname.
That’s because a new naming rights deal was recently announced that starts later this fall. That’s when The Cell will become (wait for it….)
Guaranteed Rate Field.
Rolls right off the tongue, right?
From the outside, it looks like the sales department is running a bit amok. In fact, Chicago Sun-Times writer, Rick Morrissey, wondered whether the name “Year End Clearance Sales Stadium” was already taken. Many Chicagoans see this sponsorship money grab as yet another White Sox fail. Ironically, the new logo shows a down arrow, perhaps an omen about the team's direction.
Yes, there’s a lot of green riding on this new 13-year agreement. But you have to wonder at what point an awkward naming rights debacle like this leads to more brand erosion and all-out ridicule. As if the White Sox don’t have enough going against them, this new stadium name is just lame. Even a scoreboard that shoots off fireworks can’t redeem it. It’s not even worthy of a “Disco Demolition.”
Sox manager Robin Ventura knows a bad name when he hears it, but he's hopeful this obvious bow to the almighty dollar mess can be salvaged. And like any good programmer, he told the Chicago Tribune, “We’ll come up with something.”
As many programmers have learned over the years, just because a rep makes the sales doesn't mean it's a good deal for the station. Your advertisers deliver more than their messages to your audience. Their very presence and the degree to which your station accepts ads make a statement about your brand and the respect you have for your customers.
In this case, the message is clear: If there's enough money on the table, we'll call it anything we want. Get used to it.
Is this the worst name ever for a stadium? CBS MarketWatch suggests Guaranteed Rate Field has infamous naming competition. They point out Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena send a not-so-good message about how the Kings approach NBA basketball. And they point out that the new name for the Detroit Red Wings home in 2017 – Little Caesars Arena – couldn't last even a couple rounds with Joe Louis Arena.
Ironically, Guaranteed Rate Field goes into effect on November 1st which could possibly be Game 5 of the World Series featuring the Cubs versus the American League champs.
It would be so apropos if on the day Guaranteed Rate Field is dedicated, all eyes are focused on Wrigleyville, as Chicagoans anxiously watch their Cubs try to make history. Given this bad attempt at cashing in on their brand, maybe that's the way the White Sox really want it.
Thanks to David Gariano who knows a bad branding story when he sees one.