In Buffalo, N.Y., Pilot Air Freight paid $1.02 million six years ago to attach its name to the city's new minor-league baseball stadium, now known as Pilot Field.
In Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y., and in Edmonton, Alberta, and Ottawa, city leaders are offering the names of their new minor-league baseball stadiums for prices ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to $1.5 million.Salt Lake City was following that trend in mid-July when it announced its new stadium will be known as Franklin Quest Field, the result of a $600,000 donation by the Franklin Quest Corp. and an additional $800,000 by four current and former executives of the company.
But in the two weeks since that announcement, radio talk shows and letters to the editor along the Wasatch Front have fired crit-icisms at City Hall, calling the move crass commercialism.
Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini said she is "flabbergasted" by all the fuss.
"I'm very surprised," she said. "We said from day one we were going to use private-sector money for naming the stadium."
Rather than commercialization, she said the donation is a "wonderful" sign that people are willing to donate to keep professional baseball in the city.
But critics, such as Larry Gerlach, a history professor at the University of Utah, said the new name is a sign the city is minimizing the community's contribution to the stadium. Taxpayers will pay most of the rest of the $18 million price tag.
The city "is selling tradition and heritage for the sake of immediate short-term money," he said. When the city treats baseball more like a business than a community asset built on heritage and civic pride, it reduces the sport to the level of any other business.
"I've gone out and paid good money to watch pretty bad performances through the years," Gerlach said. "I thought to myself that it is important to support minor-league baseball or bad Jazz teams because they are important to the community.
"But if they're telling me this is nothing more than a business, then I'm not going to spend money unless the product is good enough."
Besides, Gerlach said, $600,000 isn't enough for a corporation to put its name on a stadium.
However, he isn't bothered by Delta Air Lines' contribution to the Delta Center - a sum that never was made public. Baseball is different, he said. Its stadiums are used for little else, and the game "connotes heritage and community involvement."
So far, the criticism hasn't made Franklin Quest officials regret their donation, although Senior Vice President Val Christensen said those involved are disappointed.
"We feel badly that people have reacted the way they have," he said. "Our intention was to give back to the community."
Christensen said the city approached Franklin Quest with an offer to buy the name. The company initially turned it down, then reconsidered.
"People have ascribed motives and intentions to us that have been quite unfair," he said. "We didn't go looking for it, asking where we could hang our name as cheaply as possible."
He blames negative media coverage for inciting the criticism.
The outrage appears to be unique to Salt Lake City. Bradley Owen, spokesman for the Buffalo Bisons, said no one complained about that city selling its stadium's name.
Ottawa is trying to get $1.5 million from a grocery chain to put a name on what now is called the "Ottawa Multipurpose Recreation Complex." Ottawa team owner Howard Darwin said he doesn't expect anyone to object. "They tried to name it after me, but I said no way," he said.
In Syracuse, the city will give up the name of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, which graced its old stadium, to satisfy the highest bidder.
"I doubt if it's going to be an issue," said Luann Wall, director of sales and marketing for that city's baseball team.
Corradini said the bottom line is that the city sorely needed the donation.
"We had to have that money," she said. "It was a critical piece of the funding. Without it, we wouldn't have a stadium that is all that special."
- "We said from day one we were going to use private-sector money for naming the stadium." - Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.
- The city "is selling tradition and heritage for the sake of immediate short-term money." - Larry Gerlach, U. history professor.
- "We feel badly that people have reacted the way they have. Our intention was to give back to the community." - Val Christensen, Franklin Quest senior vice president.