Naming rights not always just about money

Sunday, August 2, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's nice that Jerry Carroll found somebody to pour money into his big horse race. Nicer still that he didn't threaten to move his commercial venture out of Florence if taxpayers didn't fork over some money. But Gallery Furniture.com Stakes?

It doesn't roll off the tongue. And how does Mr. Carroll, who has done a most remarkable job of restoring Turfway Park and bringing this big-purse race to the region, expect to get any headlines? Any buzz? The name is too long, too cumbersome, too hard to remember.

And you know what happens then. A nickname. Parents who call their children Emerson and Cuthbert doom them to handier playground names -- Bud or Chip. Or if they have an outstanding physical trait, they may become Beak or Ears, Stinky or Fats.

Walking sandwich boards

For 17 years, the official title was the Jim Beam Stakes, generally shortened to simply "the Beam." What will we call it now? Probably not Stinky or Fats. The Gal? Or, in the manner of the unpronounceable hieroglyphic formerly known as Prince, will it be the "March horse race that used to be the Beam"?

Jim and Linda McIngvale, owners of the Houston furniture store, will pay Turfway nearly $500,000 a year for three years. I wonder if Mr. Carroll charged extra for the ".com," which seems a little over the top.

But, anyway, they are not paying the rest of us, so I guess we can call it anything we want. And we can refuse to become walking sandwich boards to help sell couches and chairs.

We have to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise we are going to be wearing T-shirts that say things like "Apex Appliance Store No Carrying Charges, Free Delivery Festival." Or the "Elmer's Carpet Free Installation and Padding Park."

The Bengals organization surprised a lot of people last year by choosing to name its new facility Paul Brown Stadium. A classy and popular move. In fact, I like it so much I am tempted to stop calling it the Bob Bedinghaus Taxatorium and Testosterone Complex.

But before I get too congenial, I checked with Troy Blackburn, the Bengals director of stadium development, just in case we taxpayers paid for this gesture. It appears that we did not. The county's agreement with the Bengals provides that the first $5 million of net revenues from the sale of naming rights were to have gone to the county.

So the Bengals paid the county $5 million.

Paying for the privilege

"And we were willing to forego a lot of other money for the privilege of naming the stadium after someone with a strong link to the community," Mr. Blackburn said. According to the team's deal with the county, the next $11.67 million of naming rights money would have gone to the Bengals.

"We believed that, realistically, the present value would be in the $15 million to $17 million range."

So did you float it out there and just not get any takers? "No," he said. "We never got to that point."

Of course, maybe the Bengals so skillfully and thoroughly hosed the county on practice fields and everything else that they could afford to be generous.

And unlike the Gallery Furniture.com Stakes, which is a private enterprise and a single event, the stadium and new Reds ballpark are public buildings that belong to us. Pleasing us is more than a gesture. It should be part of the plan. The Reds are looking for a corporate sugar daddy. Have they learned anything from the Bengals?

Will they figure out a way to show their appreciation to the people who pay for this playing facility every time they buy a new refrigerator or a Snickers bar? Will they show some respect for the institution? Or will we be sitting in the cheap seats at the new Amalgamated Emporium Everyday Low Prices, 15 Months Same as Cash Ballpark?

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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