It is now standard practice for new sports stadiums and arenas to sell their naming rights to a corporate sponsor, a move that earns the franchise millions of dollars and gives the winning company a particularly public advertisement that doesn't always seem like an intrusion on fans' and consumers' attention. With franchises increasingly being run like more traditional businesses intent on making as much money as possible, it's a relatively simple way to boost profits. In fact, it's somewhat shocking when an arena doesn't have a corporate name these days.
On Tuesday, one of those last remaining arenas changed course and joined the vast majority of branded buildings. As announced on Tuesday, the Rose Garden, the home of the Portland Trail Blazers since October 1995, has been renamed the Moda Center at Rose Quarter. From Anne M. Peterson for the Associated Press:
The Portland Trail Blazers announced a 10-year agreement with insurance provider Moda Health on Tuesday to rename the Rose Garden. [...]
At the request of team owner Paul Allen, the new logo will incorporate a rose as a tribute to the fans and the city. Allen originally named the arena the Rose Garden.
''The Rose Garden is not going away. It's going to be a part of our history and heritage,'' [Blazers president Chris] McGowan said. ''The Moda Center is going to take us into the future.''
Moda Health, founded in 1955 and based in Portland, offers medical, dental, pharmacy and vision plans to 2 million members in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Formerly known as ODS, the company changed its name in May. [...]
Asked what he would tell fans similarly attached to the Rose Garden name, McGowan said: ''Hopefully, they'll understand that this is what organizations do to go to another level.''
McGowan's rationale is questionable — investment in an organization takes it to the next level, and Allen already has plenty of money at his disposable to do that — but he's absolutely correct that this decision is not a rare one. There are now two arenas with non-corporate names: the Detroit Pistons' Palace of Auburn Hills and the New York Knicks' Madison Square Garden, which maybe doesn't even count if we consider it to be an ad for the eponymous company that owns it. The Blazers may be trying to sell this decision as a step up to a new level, but they're really just joining the rest of the pack.
It's tempting to take this moment as an opportunity to bemoan the increased corporatization of professional sports, but the fact is that this argument was lost years ago. Even when the Rose Garden held that name, the fan experience was typified by branded timeout entertainment, garish advertisements throughout the arena, and similar experiences on TV broadcasts. The NBA is a multi-billion-dollar business with close ties to similar businesses, and its working logic proceeds as such. It's telling that, in the official press release for the name change, McGowan and Moda Health president Dr. William Johnson speak of a basketball team and health insurance company as if they have the same goals and principles. Again, the shock here is that the Blazers hadn't already renamed the Rose Garden, not that they decided to do so at all.
Fans have reason to be upset, though, because the Rose Garden name was a familiar one tied to many good memories from an objectively successful period in Blazers history. Their saving grace, I suppose, will be that no rules prohibit them from referring to the arena as "the Rose Garden" from now until its close. The official name may have changed, but that doesn't mean fans have to recognize it. They do have some power, however minor it may be.