You Belong To The Citi

The big Mets news of the day is that the new ballpark to open in 2009 will be named CitiField, thanks to an 8-figure deal with Citigroup (the parent company of Citibank) estimated as much as $20 million per year. (More here). While it would have been nice to follow my suggestion that the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee company pay to name the place Jackie Robinson Stadium, I’m basically fine with this, and not just because Citigroup (1) is a major client of mine and my firm’s and (2) holds the mortgage on my house. Four points about stadium names:
1. You get a new stadium, you get a new name. Let’s have none of this “New Shea”/”Old Shea” nonsense. Shea Stadium is a place with its own identity and its own place in the history of the game and the hearts of Mets fans. You tear it down to build a new stadium, you get a new name.
2. I don’t, in principle, have a problem with corporate stadium names (ballparks have been named after companies, egomaniacal owners, or some combination of the two – see “Wrigley Field” and “Turner Field” for examples – as long as there have been ballparks). $20 million a year can make the Mets more competitive, and that is a good thing. I’m fine with corporate names subject to points #3 and 4.
3. No ridiculous names. CitiField isn’t a ridiculous name, like the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl, the rather wimpy-sounding Minute Maid Field, or abysmal phone company names like SBC Field. There is a certain affinity between “Citi” and “Metropolitans,” after all. Citibank is a longstanding New York-based business and in an industry (banking and Wall Street investment banks) that has deep roots in the city.
4. No names that change every few years. In fact, were I negotiating a stadium deal, I would add in a substantial premium and an escape clause for renaming rights. That’s my big issue with naming stadiums after banks and phone companies, as well as new and unstable companies (see: “Enron Field”). But the First National City Bank of New York has been known as “City Bank” or Citibank for decades, and given its size and brand equity, should be for the forseeable future.