I was going to write about Ferguson but the reaction I provoked on Facebook yesterday over the name change for the Suns' home made me switch gears. I wrote, "Talking Stick Resort Arena. That pretty much says it all about Phoenix's inability to be a big city."
So far, 50 people have "liked" it. Much debate came in the comments. Aside from a small number of the usual why-are-you-picking-on-Phoenix notes, there was "Pitiful," "We have no visionary leadership in this city," "This all just makes me want to cry," and "Wait'll they move both teams to Talking Stick neighborhood. .....$10 says that is in the works."
On the other hand, I made some fans (so they said) mad for allegedly being unfair to Phoenix. Still others thought it wasn't a big deal. But they took the time to comment. Someone made the excuse that Phoenix is a "young city," a canard I have tried to knock down before. A couple of comments gave the whiff of, "he doesn't just hate Phoenix, he tortures kittens for sport (and from Seattle, which doesn't even have an NBA team!)".
It started as an offhand comment. Then it became clear I had run sandpaper over a very raw nerve.
Let's stipulate that pro sports are one of the many cesspools in our evermore corrupt and venal society. This is true everywhere. Naming rights always struck me as odd. Who chooses to do business with an outfit because their moniker is stuck on a sports arena? Maybe it's like penis enlargement spam. Somebody must be responding or it would go away.
All over the country, team owners have not been content to extort palaces from the taxpayers under threat of leaving. They also want to milk more cash from naming rights. Only a few places — Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park — have avoided the sellout. It's one more way to suck income upwards while also destroying the history and even poetry of many former sports venue names.
Remember when the Padres played at a stadium named after a beloved sports writer, when the Big Red Machine thundered out of Riverfront Stadium, the Twins and Vikings home was named after Hubert Humphrey, and the Braves still played in the city of Atlanta at a stadium named after their owner?
The venue built by Arizona taxpayers in the 1960s, where the new NBA team played in its first finals, was named Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Even America West Arena, although involving naming rights by the airline, had a more transcendent quality than if it had been America West Airlines arena — clunk.
And a city could do worse: Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, anyone? Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland? Bankers Life Fieldhouse sounds like the supermax prison where the Wall Street boyz should have been sent.
So...The Stick. Oh, if only they could have settled for Talking Stick Arena. Kinda cool. Although talking sticks are more associated with northwest tribes. Are they a part of Pima culture (honest, dumb question)? "Gila River Arena" was good enough for the arena hosting the hockey team that is dead to me since it changed its name.
One can look at this event many ways. As with the first European settlers who couldn't even feed themselves, once again the Indians have come to the rescue.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community has come a long way from the days when I was a first responder there, working for Kord's Ambulance out of Scottsdale. Now it is a serious economic entity, leveraging not only gambling but metro Phoenix's two major sectors, tourism and real-estate development. How its money is accounted for and invested, and how much each tribe member benefits from this new bounty is tribal business, not open to outside auditors (as far as I know).
Another angle is the treachery of both Doug Parker and Robert Sarver. Why do they hate Phoenix?
Parker couldn't wait to move the headquarters of USAirways, the acquirer of American Airlines, from Tempe to Dallas-Fort Worth. Now he won't even renew the longtime naming rights. There's an American Airlines Center in Dallas. Figure it out, Doug. American Airlines Arena, American Airlines Coliseum...more is better, if naming rights are so special. He just wanted out.
As for Sarver, does anyone question that if he had owned the Suns in the early 1990s the new arena would have been built out on the fringes? It was only Jerry Colangelo's vision that brought both this arena and later the ballpark to the center city.
Also, it is cruelly telling that the Phoenix arena will be named after a tourism site outside the city but whose foundation is gambling. While one wants to celebrate the windfall of gambling to tribes, to the extent that it has been, "casinos ruin cities," as Richard Florida has said. The grim side of "gaming" goes hand-in-hand with other social problems and pathologies. The casino business is saturated, rather like resorts (golf is in decline).
What most struck me was that the arena in the downtown of the nation's sixth most-populous city, with three home teams, apparently couldn't attract a more prominent sponsor.
No doubt this is partly a consequence of the devastating loss of corporate headquarters and not replacing them.
No Valley National Bank Center, Greyhound or Viad Arena, no Western Savings Fieldhouse. And, sadly, nowadays, no First Solar or Go Daddy arena. No Intel Center. The lack of corporate citizens and stewards for a city and metro this size is astonishing.
It is also a sign of the metro's unwillingness to push the city name, and a beautiful one at that, as opposed to the geography of nowhere "Valley." Why do you hate Phoenix?
Most important, the naming-rights change should raise questions about Phoenix's attractiveness to big business. About the appeal of its brand in the national and world economy.
The arena name seems like a trifling thing, but not when fitted with the many other economic challenges that the city and metropolitan area continue to face. One could say, Phoenix has many worse problems than this. But what if this is intimately connected to those problems? I'd love to know the back story of the negotiations. And if the leadership that exists is concerned about the implications.
Back to the Facebook thread: I suggested Call Center Center, which set off other wags. The best was Sinaloa Drug Cartel Arena (hat tip to Bill Richardson). Why not go for the really big bucks?
I'll end on the hopeful note that although the "Waste Management Phoenix Open" is its formal name, the golf tournament is generally known once again by its enchanting and historic name, the Phoenix Open.
But I also don't dismiss the commenter's prediction that the Suns could end up on the rez.
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