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DON’T LET BEER NAME SPOIL ARENA

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An offer by the Coors Brewing Co. to buy naming rights to West Valley's new hockey arena deserves a silver bullet - right through the heart of the proposal.

Not that the money wouldn't be nice. Coors has offered about $7 million - more than twice what the city expected to get. But some things are more important than money.Fortunately, the City Council seems to understand this. It has expressed strong reservations about accepting the offer.

Unfortunately, the council decided Thursday to commission an opinion poll to learn what residents think. This shouldn't be a matter of popular opinion. It should be a matter of common sense.

In Utah, these issues tend to take on religious overtones. But this has little to do with religion and everything to do with sending subtle messages about health and athletics.

Americans have progressed to the point where they would recoil at the thought of a tobacco company sponsoring an arena. We know instinctively that smokers and athletes are at polar opposites. The time has come to begin drawing the same distinctions between alcohol and athletics.

Cigarettes tend to kill over time. Alcohol does the same, but it also can kill instantly. According to the magazine Pediatrics, the leading cause of death among Americans 15 to 24 years old is alcohol-related auto accidents. Alcohol also plays a major role in drownings, suicides and homicides. Its abuse tends to be more common among young people - the age group most influenced by professional athletes and teams.

How odd, then, that the nation is pushing to regulate tobacco as a controlled substance but it continues to allow alcohol a close relationship to athletic achievement.

In this case, some have argued that beer and hockey go together naturally. That makes as much sense as arguing that beer and high school go together. It is simply wrong. The enjoyment of the sport ought to transcend any need for a drug.

Hockey has struggled for years to be accepted as a family sport in Utah. The Golden Eagles died two years ago in part because of a failure in this regard, typified by some poor marketing choices. (Who can forget the annual "bikini night" fiasco?) Last season, the Grizzlies made significant inroads. Many families were among the more than 17,000 people at the championship game. Why jeopardize this success?

The fact that Colorado baseball fans play in Coors Field and that St. Louis fans go to Busch Stadium should have little bearing. West Valley officials should ask themselves how many Utah parents would feel comfortable taking their children to an arena named for a beer company.

Coors hopes a recent Supreme Court decision on alcohol advertising will loosen Utah's strict laws against advertising beer in arenas. But this is one issue that transcends state law.

West Valley City ought to rest assured that if a beer company would pay $7 million for naming rights, other companies would be willing to pay as much to attach a more appropriate name to the facility - one that could make the entire state proud.