Playing the name game

Adriene Hill Jun 12, 2012

Playing the name game

Adriene Hill Jun 12, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The hockey season’s done, as you may have heard. The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last night.

Which leaves basketball with the only playoff games in town. The NBA Finals start tonight. The Miami Heat versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. And while the spotlight will shine on LeBron James and Kevin Durant, we couldn’t help but take note of a couple of not-so-stellar performers: The companies whose names are on the arenas where the games will be played.

Marketplace’s Adriene Hill reports.

Adriene Hill: People have called it “the stadium curse” — when naming rights go wrong. A company spends millions to put their brand on a stadium and then goes bust.

Michael Leeds is a sports economist at Temple University.

Michael Leeds: Enron Field in Houston is always a delight.

There’s also CMGI, which wanted its name tied to the New England Patriots.

Leeds: And the company went bust before the stadium was even being built.

The list goes on. And now, in this NBA finals match-up, Miami arena’s namesake — American Airlines — is in bankruptcy. And the Thunder are playing in an arena named after the very troubled Chesapeake Energy.

But Leeds says, we might want to back away from the curse and jinx talk, as tempting as it might be for us sports fans. He’s researched stadium naming rights.

Leeds: We generally found that they really didn’t have much of an effect at all on the profitability of the company.

But what about the effect on the players of being tied to a down-in-the-dumps corporation? I call up Galen Clavio. He’s a sports management professor at Indiana University.

Hill: Based on the trouble the two companies are in, American and Chesapeake, any handicapping we can do for the finals coming up?

Galen Clavio: No, fortunately they’re not having any impact on the play on the floor.

He says players don’t care all that much about arena names. As for winners and losers?

Clavio: If you were matching the corporations up against one another, I think you’d definitely pick American Airlines over Chesapeake.

But in the basketball series, he’s betting on Oklahoma.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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