We’re the Victims of a Corporate Takeover
In case you missed it last week: Pattison Station, a.k.a. the SEPTA stop at the Sports Complex, is out. AT&T Station is in, thanks to a $3 million naming deal.
Neither the sports teams nor their various arenas had anything to do with the change, but somehow, it feels like the completion of a long process down at the Sports Complex, a cinching of some great corporate linchpin. Now, from the moment we set foot on the train to go to, say, a Phillies game, until the moment we leave to go home, we become walking product placements, the names of corporations not just ground into our consciousness, but actually on our lips. After we alight at ol’ AT&T, we’ll walk into Citizens Bank Park to meet friends at the Bud Light Rooftop, where we’ll turn to watch the Daily News player profile on the scoreboard. (If we’re watching from home, we’ll rest assured knowing that our players are “safe and secure with New York Life” at a base, or listen to our announcers casually discuss Dietz & Watson deli meats between plays.) Sports in Philadelphia have officially been brought to us by corporate America.[SIGNUP]
I’m not trying to come down on sponsorships in sports, per se. (It’s a different sport, but seriously: Who could ever take issue with scoring for a case of Tastykakes?) I’d say the synergy between sports and capitalism is generally good — especially considering that corporate sponsors help keep all of our ticket prices down as costs go up. And it’s not like companies are just now figuring out how to get mileage out of the massive captive audiences that are sports fans: Even before gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. bought and renamed the Cubs Stadium after himself and his empire, he paid for a pair of impossible-to-miss Doublemint twin cutouts to flank the scoreboard. That was in the 1920s.
To me, the increasingly irritating issue lies in blithely granting more and more companies’ their greediest, most narcissistic of wishes — that is, not just having millions of people see their logo splashed up everywhere, but getting millions of people to utter their names again and again and again, like so many unpaid shills. Even if we can accept that by now, naming rights are just a part of sports, are we okay accepting that corporations have become such a big part of the sports experience, right down to the train we ride in on? (Ah, popcorn, crackerjacks and AT&T.) And if our beleaguered SEPTA’s experiment with such sponsorship is deemed a success — and they got $3 million; how could it not be? — then how soon should we expect corporations to become a part of our other, more pedestrian experiences? How soon will we be hopping on the train at Olive Garden Broad Street station and taking it to PepsiCo in NoLibs?
I can see why it’s smart business for the parties involved — including the sponsors, for whom there can’t be much better bang for your buck than having whispers of Bud Light in the air, and AT&T, AT&T echoing around the train stations. (Not coincidentally, AT&T is the sole service provider in the subway.) And given that, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to look into a future where — since it’s worked at the Sports Complex and the train system that took us there — we aren’t so surprised when our kids go play at Fairmount’s Comcast Park or take field trips to the Liberty (Mutual) Bell.