Where’s the crime in naming a stadium for a prison?
Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 11:08 p.m.
A recent headline on the front page of the New York Times’ sports section states: A Company That Runs Prisons Will Have Its Name on a Stadium.
The story, by Greg Bishop, reports that Florida Atlantic University had agreed, for $6 million, to rename its football venue GEO Group Stadium. The story went on to report that GEO Group, a private prison corporation, “has been opposed by civil liberty and human rights groups and immigrant rights organizations. It has been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.”
Well, let the do-gooders fulminate about the perceived decline in ethics and the selling out for the almighty dollar. Almighty, indeed. That’s the point. Bishop also wrote “GEO Group reported revenues in excess of $1.6 billion in 2011, income generated mostly from state and federal prisons and detention centers for illegal immigrants. ... It holds nearly $3 billion in assets.”
Florida Atlantic, which will soon move from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA, is a relatively small fish in the shark-infested ocean of college football. FAU’s stadium is modest by most college football standards, seating fewer than 30,000. But FAU, like all competitive businesses in this current, continually gloomy economic climate, needs money. Cash. Moola. Simoleons. Mucho dinero. Now.
So, the nice folks running wildly successful private prisons rode to the rescue. Where’s the crime?
“It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium,” the Times quoted grumpy Grassroots Leadership executive director Bob Libal, referring to the private contractors implicated in atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Libal may have unwittingly come up with a boffo football stadium sponsorship idea. It has a certain menacing, macho sound to it, doesn’t it? Blackwater Stadium, home of the Merciless Mercenaries.
Some questions, though, still need to be answered. Instead of the anonymous corporate sounding GEO Group Stadium, will folks soon start calling it the Ball and Chain? Will opposing teams call the school Incarceration U? Will FAU’s Owls become known, instead, as the Perps? Or the Inmates? Will the team color become jumpsuit orange? Will the uniform design feature stripes?
These are important questions that will be answered in due time.
Imagine where this whole new free-enterprise concept might lead. For example:
Big Tobacco Dome
Any domed stadium that’s looking to rebrand itself (and, really, who isn’t looking to rebrand themselves nowadays?) might want to solicit funds from a group of the most profitable cigarette companies willing to forgo specific name recognition with the fraternal, unifying feeling of a team effort. And let’s face it. Big Tobacco has been under siege by meddling government regulators and several know-it-all health advocacy groups for decades. What better way to reposition the industry in a more favorable light than with sponsorship of a sports stadium? Sure, any institution of higher learning willing to go this route might be opening itself to tasteless jokes that refer to it as Emphysema State, but you’ve got to have a sense of humor in the sponsorship business.
Hard Stuff Park
Sure, we’ve got Busch Stadium and Coors Field, big-league ballparks bearing the name of giant beer brewing corporations, but we don’t have a sports edifice that celebrates the really good stuff, the hard stuff — you know — whiskey. Certain brands of whiskey already buy air time to sponsor baseball broadcasts. Why not take the next logical step and sponsor the whole darn ballpark? And, again, in the spirit of fiduciary responsibility, it would make sense for the various big-time booze makers to partner in this exciting venture, swallow their egos and go with a generic name, like Hard Stuff. Once inside the ballpark, the various whiskey sellers can compete individually. That’s the American way. Of course, there will always be some snide sportswriter who might refer to the place as DUI Park or the dugouts as holding tanks, but what else would you expect from sportswriters than a lack of cooperation?
If any group needs to take aim at a more positive, less polarizing image, it’s the National Rifle Association. What better way than to sponsor a sports stadium? If nothing else, the terms run-and-gun and pistol offense will take on more significance.
This would only work in Nevada, where the proverbial world’s oldest profession is legal; but, again, it would be a golden opportunity for an often unfairly tarnished industry to reposition itself as the perfectly legitimate sponsor of a wholesome place where consenting participants engage in sweating and heavy breathing. Hey, we’re talking about competitive sports. Duh.
Besides, as David Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University, said in the Times article, “It does appear we’re prostituting ourselves to the highest bidder regardless of what they represent.”
You can reach Robert Rubino at firstname.lastname@example.org.