Let’s face it: Clyde Haberman of the New York Times has always hated the idea of the New York Mets selling naming rights to their new ballpark. He’s now using the recent financial issues facing the team to once again bash Citi Field and the Wilpons.
Flash back to 2006, when the Mets first announced a 20-year, $400-million naming-rights deal with Citibank for the new ballpark. Haberman weighed in with a column that was part nostagia and part wishful thinking. His beef: that the name of Shea Stadium would not be living on in the new ballpark. In a column for the Times, Haberman wrote this:
In exchange for its millions, Citigroup receives naming rights. Naming rights are not to be confused with honor. Honor is something bestowed upon you. It is not something that you can insist is your due. A company name spread above the front door on demand is a billboard.
To appreciate the concept of honor, you need look no farther than across the elevated tracks of the No. 7 train running alongside Shea Stadium. On the other side of the tracks lie a tennis center named for Billie Jean King and stadiums bearing the names of Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong. In that way, those giants of sports and music are honored. They did not pay for the privilege.
Putting up money without receiving a billboard in return is an alien concept in corporate America today. You don’t like it? Well, get real, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who used to run an information services company that he named for himself.
“The real world is that you have to have a naming opportunity and sell it for a lot of money if you can afford a stadium in this day and age,” the mayor said yesterday after a ceremonial groundbreaking for Citi Field. Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ principal owner, made a similar point. “It is imperative that we receive revenues,” he said.
It was a theme Haberman returned to time and time and time again. (He’s also a bit of a revisionist historian, always painting William Shea as a saint but never quite going into Shea’s involvement with the upstart Continental League.)
So, with word that the Wilpons and fellow Mets owner Saul Katz may be sued for up to a billion dollars as a result of their close financial involvement with Bernie Madoff — a lucrative involvement, to be sure, and one that could cost them the team — Haberman is taking the occasion to argue that the Mets should walk away from the naming-rights deal and bring back the Shea Stadium name:
No matter how the lawsuit plays out, the rancid air of impropriety now permeates the Wilpon-Katz Mets, unlikely to be cleansed soon, if ever. The situation is hardly improved by that name above the ballpark entrance.
Thanks to a bailout by American taxpayers, Citigroup has rebounded from its near-death experience in 2008. But it remains a symbol of all that went haywire on Wall Street and propelled the United States economy toward disaster.
Bad enough that the Mets’ owners are enduringly scarred by their Madoff connection. By clinging to the Citi name, they are also saying they have no qualms about identifying themselves with a central player in one of the biggest financial debacles in this country’s history.
Is this, some might wonder, truly good for New York?
Let’s run through this logic. Citibank has done some bad things and required a bailout from the feds, as did many other banks. The Mets owners are accused — though certainly not convicted — of illegally sharing in the profits from Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Therefore, the Mets should walk away from a $20-million naming-rights deal, which would certainly make a bad financial situation worse, because everyone involved in this sorry excuse for a ballpark is bad.
That’s like a doctor prescribing amputation for a finger sporting a wart in an effort to remove the wart. It’s a “solution” totally out of sync with what’s best for the team and for baseball.
Yes, Clyde, we know you hate the Citi Field name and you’d much rather see the ballpark called Shea Stadium. And you certainly are a creature of habit with yet another column making the argument. But these arguments are silly and misinformed: you don’t make a bad financial situation worse by taking $20 million off the table for the franchise.
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