Having followed the Memphis/NBA story for the last three months through several different newspapers, I feel compelled to express my opinion. It was my hope that New Orleans or Memphis would be chosen as the relocation city for the Vancouver Grizzlies. But after reading all the articles, from Vancouver to Memphis, I conclude that this whole deal stinks.
I am a sports fan, not some Johnny-come-lately naysayer. I am sick of corporate sponsorship ruining sports. I cringe every time I hear "AT&T Rose Bowl," "Tostitos Fiesta Bowl," and "FedEx Orange Bowl." This deal that will eventually send the Grizzlies to Memphis is much worse.
This will be the first time, in any of the four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey), that a corporation will have both arena-naming rights and team-naming rights. Anyone who also hates what corporate sponsorship has done to the college bowl games will find this deal unpalatable.
I find it strange that no one has reported that, in a widely credited study, Anaheim and New Orleans finished at the top of the list of cities available to support a professional franchise. Memphis and Louisville finished near the bottom. This information was easily accessible a few months ago in newspapers from Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and Vancouver but seems to be missing from Memphis publications.
Only when Kentucky Fried Chicken offered over $100 million to the owner to give Louisville consideration over the two top cities did FedEx step up for Memphis -- and in the process possibly change professional sports forever.
The pending deal was made under the scope of what FedEx could gain by placing their name on a uniform. We so far have been able to keep corporate sponsorship out of this area of sports. Not anymore. Companies are sensing a new way of marketing; thousands of people in an arena wearing their logo and colors is seen as an untapped advertising gold mine -- but one that Memphis should avoid being the poster child for, even if that means not getting a franchise.
The team- and arena-naming rights are a big deal. Usually a team name, logo, and colors are a sense of city pride. Local artists usually are called upon to design the new logo, local newspapers hold "name the team" polls, and the mayor usually expresses how the team will proudly wear the city colors. None of this is going to happen in Memphis.
Why? Because the FedEx marketing department will get to do all of those things. Why should Memphis pay for an arena when the team owners will reap the profits and the team name will reflect a corporation rather than the community at large? The decision by the Memphis NBA pursuit team to sell these things should leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. The fact that all of this is rushed through, without a vote, should frighten people.
I live in Los Angeles, where we have two NBA teams (Lakers, Clippers), and the teams have hardly made race relations better, improved our social fabric, or made the public feel more cosmopolitan. To read that all these things will happen and more in Memphis, along with a major economic windfall, is ridiculous. An arena rarely makes money solely from the team that plays there but depends on hosting other events. The arena your city is currently looking to build will not even be able to hold NCAA sectionals or other major events that need more than 18,000 seats.
Walter Eckert, of Los Angeles, describes himself as "a designer who works in art departments for the film industry."