Xfinity Live!: A Name That Deserves to Be Mocked

Really? An exclamation point?

Philadelphians are finicky about the names we adopt for our institutions, as anyone who’s ever looked in vain for “the Blue Route” or “the Lakes” on a map can attest. When the official name doesn’t suit us, we coin our own. If naming is a perennial crapshoot, Comcast just rolled snake eyes.

When news broke two years ago that the Spectrum would be replaced with an entertainment complex, we mourned the loss of a beloved arena but welcomed a reason to linger in the stadium district after an event. That is, until we heard the name: Philly Live! Yes, the exclamation point was part of the moniker.

In unison, we groaned. Such forced enthusiasm rarely sits well with anyone, least of all Philadelphians. That the hokey naming convention had precedent in Baltimore (home of Power Plant Live!) did nothing to help. Would the place really be saddled with such a turkey of a name? Actually, no, it turns out. Naming rights went to Comcast, who, after careful analysis, chose to rename Philly Live! as … Xfinity Live!

(Now would be a great time for a face-palm.)

With corporate hubris and a tin ear for local sentiment, they kept the inane Live!, dropped the trite but tolerable Philly and grafted on Xfinity, a brand name with zero traction in the culture. Indeed, the company seems to be doubling down on it, despite widespread apathy around town. I imagine some marketing honcho defending the choice of “Xfinity Live!” with the truculence of George Costanza in high dudgeon: “Oh, it’s got cachet, baby! It’s got cachet up the yin-yang!”

And now it’s got a giant neon sign at 11th & Pattison. Mitt Romney got a lot of flack when he defended the notion that corporations are people, but there’s evidence here that he’s right. Comcast, welcome to personhood: You’re just as self-absorbed and obstinate as we are. This puts us one step closer to what Mike Judge called Idiocracy, in a little-seen 2006 movie of the same name, set 500 years from now in an America overrun by daft marketing ideas. At Costco, a greeter listlessly repeats, “Welcome to Costco, I love you,” to all customers with bald-faced insincerity.

Opening for business this Friday, the venue seems like a decent enough effort to keep sports and music fans in South Philly for a few more hours after an event. Oh, and getting to Xfinity Live! is a breeze. Just take the subway to the end of the line—you know, AT&T station. (After SEPTA sold the station’s naming rights a few years ago, I took to calling my cell phone provider “Pattison Wireless” in protest.) When Comcast has the chutzpah to assume Philadelphians will embrace such a clunky phrase as Xfinity Live! and make it part of our cultural vernacular, I feel the sting of creeping idiocracy.

Care to look for more examples of creeping idiocracy in Philadelphia? It’s depressingly easy.

Sex is used to sell just about everything in Idiocracy. So when—part of a media company with 21 Pulitzers in the trophy case, mind you—insists that I need 24/7 access to “Philly Naked Bike Ride” photos and other T&A shots, I can hardly tell the difference between it and the movie’s Hot Naked Chicks & World Report.

When our new city council president floats the idea of selling ad space on the side of City Hall, and when we allow a 20-foot-long elbow macaroni to be the gateway image at our Christmas Village, I think Idiocracy’s timeline of 500 years to achieve marketing singularity is hopelessly naive.

Don’t get me wrong: Advertising at high-profile places isn’t inherently bad or unwelcome. Chicagoans would riot if someone removed the name Wrigley from their beloved ballpark. Corporate benefactors can play a key role in shaping the local identity and culture. Treat us and our public institutions with a little respect, that’s all I ask. Civic leaders with higher standards and stiffer spines would help, too.

It’s patently obvious that the name Xfinity Live! will never catch on among Philadelphians, although I have little doubt the actual venue will. So what will this joint ultimately be called? People still say “Graduate Hospital” for the neighborhood south of Rittenhouse Square, even though that institution is long gone. How about we just keep calling the place the Spectrum? For decades, we associated that name with fun times. There’s even a restaurant named the Spectrum Grille at the site.

Otherwise, look for me on March 30th down at 11th and AT&T. I’ll be the one sullenly telling visitors, “Welcome to Xfinity Live! I love you.”