Monday, 30 November 2009

A Blog by Any Other Name

First of all welcome to The Cynical Challenge Sports Blog.

Essentially it's one step along the road which will eventually, I hope, land me a plum job as a sportswriter at a national newspaper. If not, and I end up as a middle manager, at least I might have entertained a handful of readers along the way.

The first issue was deciding on a name, which I decided had to be a recognisable sporting cliché. I toyed with the idea of "Meat Pie Sausage Roll", but as a friend pointed out I ran the risk of a) jingoism, and, b) being mistaken for a butcher. Similarly I decided against "Handbags at Dawn" because I didn't want to be bombarded with emails by disappointed retail shoppers. So "The Cynical Challenge" it was - less for its connotations of physical brutality, more for the pun (which, if I have to explain, basically ruins this entire enterprise).

Anyway, this business of naming blogs got me thinking about my first theme which is, admittedly a few weeks too late, the issue of stadium naming rights. It's in the news chiefly because of owner Mike Ashley's superbly entertaining attempt to dismantle Newcastle United Football Club piece by piece, starting with the name of their St James' Park home. And the issue reared its rather ugly head again this month with the news that both Chelsea Football Club and, more surprisingly, that most venerable of sporting institutions, Lord's Cricket Ground, have considered doing the same.

It's no surprise that most sports fans intensely dislike the commercialisation of their beloved game. It's equally no surprise that sporting authorities and organisations are seeking to pursue all possible avenues for financial gain, even if that means changing the long-held names of stadia. This conflict of interests between a sports club's management structure and its support base is basically unwinnable - the pros and cons of either argument make this a zero-sum game.

However, Europe's sporting authorities might look to America as a model for how this creeping commercialisation may pan out. American sports fans benefit from great entertainment and unparallelled stadium facilities. Professional sports franchises make mountains of cash, even during a recession.

But it's not quite QED. A stadium name is still a significant part of a sports team's identity, and when American teams gets it wrong their sports fans have to put up with some pretty rotten ones. MLS team FC Dallas play their home games at the tasty-sounding Pizza Hut Park. The San Diego Padres play their home baseball games at Petco Stadium, sponsored by a pet supplies company. However, it's the fans of the University of Oklahoma Sooners who I feel most sorry for...