What's in a Stadium Name?

Thursday, April 17 1997; Page A22

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JOHN KENT COOKE'S decision to name the Washington Redskins' new stadium for his father is a good one not only for the honor to the late team owner but because it bucks a trend that threatens one day to have every sports stadium in the country named for some drugstore, insurance company, airline, restaurant, communications conglomerate, sausage maker, brokerage house, funeral home or law firm. So common has the practice become that Jack Kent Cooke himself had planned before his death to rent out the name of his new stadium to a corporation, even though he'd built and paid for the place himself.

At mid-century, the country's most well-known stadiums (mostly ballparks) carried names like Mack, Griffith, Briggs, Crosley, Fenway, Comiskey, Ebbet, Shibe and Forbes. There was Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, Yankee Stadium in New York, war memorial fields in many places and various arenas named for cities, landmarks, athletic teams or historical figures. Most of the baseball stadiums were named after club owners -- a mixed lot so far as their service to the greater community was concerned but undeniably flesh-and-blood figures with a place in their cities' life and history.

This year Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, among the latest of many such renamings, is known as Cinergy Field. San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium (after a sports editor who helped bring the football and baseball teams to town) had its name leased to the high-tech firm Qualcomm: 20 years for $18 million. The average sports fan probably has little idea what these names mean or where they come from. Even more puzzling is why local heritage and identity are sold so cheaply. Qualcomm's annual rental on one of San Diego's most prominent structures is about enough to pay half the salary of one decent free-agent cornerback. It will be interesting, too, to see what happens when these leases start running out, or the companies that hold them go under. Will there be a great wave of name changes, reflective primarily of who's currently doing well on the stock exchange?

Give us Jack Kent Cooke Stadium any day. You may not have loved him, but if you lived anywhere near Washington, D.C., you had to know who he was and what he did. The Redskins might come up a million dollars short on the payroll, but at least it can be said of the place where they play that there's a there there.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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