As you’ve likely seen by now, the White Sox announced a long-term deal to rename their stadium to Guaranteed Rate Field, with the 13-year agreement going into effect November 1. From a strictly dollars and cents perspective, the news is somewhere between neutral and good; from a more important perspective, it’s an example of this franchise forfeiting some of its dignity and passing up a good opportunity, all at once.
Getting the practical side of things out of the way: with the White Sox not disclosing the terms of the deal, we’re forced to guess at the exact magnitude, but the number getting kicked around was $88 million, or which would be a bit less than $7 million per year. That’s about twice what they were getting from U.S. Cellular, though the opacity of the deals (what the actual yearly rate on the current deal was, what sort of buy-out was involved, what the switching costs are) means there’s some uncertainty.
If that $3 million in marginal gain or so goes to baseball ops, it’s neither hugely substantial nor a drop in the bucket. It’s filling a roster spot with a minor contributor like Alex Avila or Zach Duke, or it’s a few new front office personnel and a couple extra bonuses to international free agents. Of course, the White Sox have still never given out a $70 million contract and have refused to spend either on free agency or player development, so it’s hard to justify expecting them to get much out of this money, but at least it shouldn’t reduce their spending. The only unambiguous upside to this deal is that some of it will go to the state to replace the rent the White Sox don’t pay, slightly reducing the ongoing sting of seeing taxpayer money spent on a profitable private enterprise–and this enterprise in particular.
The downside manifests in less tangible ways. With the tacky name and unfortunately apropos logo, the White Sox are the butt of national jokes for the third time this year, following L’affaires LaRoche et Sale. Adding insult to insult, Guaranteed Rate joins fellow mortgage company stadium sponsors Quicken Loans and Ameriquest in having compliance problems in its past. The jokes won’t last 13 years, and people will figure out a nice nickname (there’s always Comiskey Park), but proper names matter—that’s why we fight about terminology regardless the subject. It’ll be a small blow every time I hear Jason Benetti read off “Guaranteed Rate Field” on the air, and a slightly larger one every time it slips into a conversation among fans. It’s especially grating when two of the other major Chicago franchises play in stadia that haven’t changed names in 90 years and the other two play in maybe the least-obtrusively sponsored stadium in sports courtesy of United’s very generic name.
It’s not a causal relationship, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the franchises that don’t have proper corporate sponsorship on the stadium—the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cardinals, the Dodgers, even the Cubs—have stronger national profiles and greater prestige than nearly all the teams that have ceded some dignity for annual seven-figure payments. Not all traditions are worth preserving, but the ones that don’t involve corporate defacing usually are. Names that have been around decades give the franchise a touch of gravitas that the White Sox are sorely lacking.
What makes this so disappointing is that the White Sox have foregone an obvious opportunity to inexpensively stand on principle and start a new tradition. Comiskey has the history, but given the many black marks on his record, he shouldn’t be the first choice to go back on the marquee. Why would he, when the White Sox could honor someone with an even longer association with the franchise, who made a more unambiguously positive impact on the game, who’s been largely underappreciated on a national level? One whose name wouldn’t represent either corporate greed nor an owner’s egotism, but instead a recognition that the players are the reason the game means anything to anyone? Sadly, it seems like a pipe dream to think that at some point in my life I’ll go back to Chicago and get to see a game at Minnie Minoso Stadium.
Lead Image Credit: David Banks // USA Today Sports Images