Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sign of the Times

To quickly peruse the Saturday morning edition of the Plain Dealer, one (unaware of the announcement from the Indians yesterday) could come to one of two conclusions – either that the Plain Dealer (who committed the ENTIRE above-the-fold portion of the Front Page to the name change) has very little to report on a Saturday morning or that Jacobs Field has been scheduled for demolition. Since the former is obviously the true statement, the news about Jacobs Field is that the structure, under a different name, will continue to operate and serve as the home to the Cleveland Indians.

Never has a move like this caused such consternation and hand-wringing among fans, who called into radio stations all of Friday, calling for a “boycott” or a “way to fight this” change. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I don’t remember this public outcry when Gund Arena was essentially given a one-letter name by the new owner (who removed the name of the previous owner from the facility). I think that the reason for the difference between the reactions between the two name changes gets to the heart of the matter regarding the “end of the Jake”. Whereas few good memories exist from the building when it was known as Gund Arena (unless your Wesley Person jersey is still in heavy rotation in your wardrobe), the 14 years that the Indians called Jacobs Field home is full of happy moments, magical memories, and favorite players.

It could easily be argued that the 14 years of the franchise, since moving into the ballpark at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario represent the “Golden Age” of Indians’ baseball. With unprecedented success and playoff appearances, the Indians of the mid-to-late 90’s and, more recently 2005 and 2007, The Jake became THE place to be…the place to see and to be seen. The fact that it had a cute nickname (probably one never envisioned by the Jacobs’ brothers when they bought the naming rights in 1994) added to the ballpark’s cache.

Yesterday, news that Jacobs Field would heretofore be known as Progressive Field was received by many as a supposed “End of An Era”, when you could no longer tell friends to “meet at the Jake” to catch a Tribe game. And, while it certainly was a convenient and catchy name that Clevelanders could identify as their own, along the same lines as “The Garden” in Boston or “Candlestick” in San Francisco, times have changed in professional sports as the naming rights to a sports facility is another revenue stream utilized by most owners (quick, where do the Celtics and 49ers play now?) to assist in the upkeep of those facilities.

The Indians, like so many teams before them, sold the naming rights to their stadium…to a Cleveland company with ties to the community for 16 years to coincide when the Indians’ 30-year lease with Gateway expires. When the Tribe re-ups with Gateway, Progressive (one of the few Fortune 500 companies remaining with local ties) will get the first crack at renewing the naming rights. Regardless of what you think of the catchiness of Progressive Field, it is simply a by-product of the changing face of American sports.

As for what we can all call the ballpark (for those not among the outraged, who will continue to call it The Jake, “no matter what”), why do we need some cutesy, monosyllabic nickname for our ballpark? Has the culture of Bennifer and Brangelina pervaded our sports world that we can’t simply say that “we’re going to the Indians’ game” or “we’ll see you at the Tribe game” or “meet you at the ballpark”?

I’ll miss calling the ballpark the Jake more than many and it’s not fun or convenient to lose the Jake moniker; but, again, wasn’t the familiarity and love for the structure at East 9th more of a by-product of the superb product that was put on the field and not the sign that was posted outside the stadium? As long as the product remains viable and successful, does it really matter what the name of the stadium is?

The naming rights announcement is only a sign of the times of the changing world of professional sports and to those who feel that the Indians are “selling out”, I can only hope that they’re right…that they’ll be “selling out” World Series games at whatever they decide to call their home.


woodsmeister said...

Not only is the love for Jacobs Field great because of the product that's been put on the field, let's also remember that it is one of the best places to watch a game in the major leagues.

It is a great ballpark, period, and they could call it Ixlquuuvvikk9 Field and it would still be one of the best parks in the league, and we should be proud to have it in Cleveland.

albertbelle said...

"Quite frankly, as a company we are approached all the time with opportunities for various sponsorships. This came after a lot of thought. It's a great opportunity for both our customer base and the fan base," Renwick said.

dude sounds real happy about it all....

Voltaire said...

Thanks for some nice calm perspective. People who have been paying attention know that this has been coming for an entire year; even if you don't agree, I fail to see how you could be "outraged."

That said, I think that if the Jake is to have a corporate name, Progressive Field isn't that bad. You can have some fun with it.

And no matter what DiBiasio says, April will NOT bring the first game at Progressive Field. That game happened 14 years ago.

Matt Shobe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Shobe said...

It's a shame _any_ ballpark has been renamed in order to forge a new revenue stream, but that's been sports reality for three decades and counting, so I'm not surprised, nor am I grabbing my pitchfork and torch and heading for the front office gates.

To put this in perspective, it could be a *lot* worse. Saying "U.S. Cellular Field" is akin to gulping down a horse pill multivitamin. Humorously, some folks in Chicago call the place "The Joan" (after commercial spokeswoman Joan Cusack). I like that.

My end-of-day sentiment keeps me in Al Davis' camp: Just Win, Baby. Keep the team on the field strong; I'll take the revenue bump to help that.

Deaner said...

The fact that Progressive just had 340+ layoffs before Christmas doesn't make this any easier to stomach.

Ron Vallo said...

No one is unaware that this is the reality of sports today, but we don't all have to like it.

it really is outrageous that baseball has come to the point where it costs $30 just to get in, $15 to park and God knows how much just to grab a quick dinner after work at the park - progressive or otherwise.

We're too a point now that the franchises have teamed up with stub-hub for team-sponsored ticket scalping to reward all those fans who paid top dollar during the regular season and waiting through a five-year rebuilding plan to see their team in a playoff.

there was a time when you could literally ask the question: should we go to the ballgame tonight or to a movie. when movies were $3 a ticket to the game was $3. when inflation took a movie ticket up to $7 or $8, you could still get into the ballpark for that.

now the question is more like: should we go to the ballgame tonight, or take a trip to france?

this is not simply about a name change. in fact it is hardly about a name change at all.

this is about the fan getting kicked in the teeth time after time so ballplayers can make $27 million a year and owners can have 25 of them on their payroll and still make a hefty a profit.

people love the games, but they're tired of getting screwed by the greed that comes with them.

that's really what the outcry is all about.

Voltaire said...

@ deaner: So should they stop advertising? This will help them grow their business by raising their national profile.

@ ron vallo: Last year you could get into the Jake for $7. If you were a lucky student, $5. If you rode the RTA in, you don't have to pay for parking. It's challenging, but you can still see a Tribe game on the cheap.

Bob said...

While I agree that it is a part of sports and not something that's going to change, it's still something that bothers a lot of us, as it's already been pointed out.

For me, and many others, this goes beyond a simple name change. I can only speak for myself, but I'm tired of corporate take over of sports. The Jake was one of the few ballparks left that DIDN'T have a corporate name; it creates identity, personality, and originality. Sure, the winning had something to do with it. But the name was a symbol of this city.

Nobody in Boson could ever imagine changing "Fenway Park" to "AT&T Park" or something. Why should it be any different here?

rodells said...

@ deaner: You couldn't be more off base when mentioning the layed off people, it has nothing to do with this. Do you know how much they spend annually on advertising? We're talking hundres of millions. Have you paid attention to Progressive and that market for the past 10 years? It's highly competitive and you might find some answers you are looking for there.