The Hightower Report

Corporate stadium names turn Mudville into Anywhere, USA; and Frank Keating dupes our brave soldiers for big bucks


THE NAME GAME

Time for another report from the "Wide, Wide, Wide, Wild World of Sports"!

Today's feature: Where are we? I don't mean where does your team rank in the standings. In today's corporatized sports world, the question of "where are we?" is a literal one – as in, what city are we in? Stadiums, arenas, and so forth no longer bear recognizable names, but instead are branded with corporate logos that are Anywhere and Nowhere, USA.

For example, SBC. What the hell is it? It's the nondescript moniker of a telephone company that stretches from Texas to Michigan to California. So, if you're at SBC Park, where are you? The San Francisco Giants recently sold the name of their ballpark to this Anyplace Corporation. There's also the SBC Center. Where are you? At the arena of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. In either case, SBC's bland corporate logo tells you nothing about the team or the city – it's just another symbol for corporate money.

Ameriquest Field, FedEx Forum, Pepsi Center, American Airlines Arena, Wachovia Center, Invesco Field, Reliant Stadium, Nationwide Arena, M&T Bank Stadium, Staples Center, Philips Arena – where are we?

In pro sports, more than half of the facilities (mostly built with taxpayer funds) now have corporate names plastered all over them. The corporations have paid $3.6 billion to team owners to put their brands on these places – money that, believe it or not, is tax-deductible for the corporation, so we subsidize the branding.

The corporate rationale is that naming deals are good advertising: "Continually seeing our name," says a spokesman for Petco, which bought the naming rights to the ballpark of the San Diego Padres, "will click with people, and say 'I want to shop there.'"

Oh, yeah, after watching a Padres game on TV, I always say, "I think I'll run out to Petco and buy a rat terrier." This isn't about advertising – it's about CEO ego, about corporations that have more money than brains.


PROFITEERING ON AMERICA'S GRUNTS

It's time for another "Gooberhead Award" – presented periodically to those in the news who have their tongues going 100 miles per hour ... but who forgot to put their brains in gear.

Today's "Goober" goes to Washington lobbyist Frank Keating. He's the former right-wing governor of Oklahoma who tried to get a top political job in the Bush regime, but ethical problems disqualified him. So Frank sank to a lower ethical strata, hiring on to hustle legislative favors for life insurance corporations.

Appallingly, Frank recently stood up for several insurance firms that are engaged in a shabby insider deal to fleece young American soldiers who're on their way to war in Iraq. Often posing as military instructors in personal finance, insurance agents from these corporations have duped unwitting young troops into buying rip-off life insurance policies that are unneeded and nearly worthless.

It's an abominable, totally unethical act of war profiteering. But here came Keating, the industry mouthpiece, to blame the victims: "Someone who is mature enough to fight and quite possibly die for their country," Frank pompously intoned, "should be freely able to decide how much and what kind of life insurance they should have."

What a Goober. He knows that this is not about free markets or free will. These low-ranking soldiers are set up for the insurance predators. The sales pitch often comes as part of compulsory military "classes," the soldiers are not even told they're buying insurance, and many of the insurance agents are retired military officers. These 18- to 19- to 20-year-old soldiers, conditioned to obeying the commands of senior officers, believe that retired Col. So-and-So is telling them something they must do – so they sign without questioning.

Yet Keating is still lobbying Congress to let his corporate clients continue picking the pockets of the underpaid grunts heading to Iraq. Is this the "freedom" they're being asked to die for?

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

stadiums, naming rights, SBC, Petco, Frank Keating, life insurance, military

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