28 September 2009

Your Name Here

There stands a bridge - actually it is a complex of three spans - which connects the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens. It opened in July, 1936. An entire forest in Oregon was cut down in order to construct the bridge. The bridge was named the Triborough Bridge because, well, it connects three boroughs. Makes sense, no?

In November 2008, the Triborough Bridge was suddenly renamed in honor of Bobby Kennedy, the famed New York Senator and brother of JFK, who was assassinated while running for president in 1968. Seemingly out of nowhere, there was this big deal made about the new name.

Bobby's daughter, Kerry, took part in an official press conference. She was adamant; saying the bridge "would not have a second name"; saying "it will not be the RFK Triborough Bridge. It is just going to be the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge." It was as if Ms. Kennedy was foreshadowing there would be an aversion or a problem adopting the new name; that after 72 years, yeah, it might be hard for the new name to catch on. Like someone coming in and saying, "From this point on Coca-Cola will be known as the William Howard Taft carbonated soft drink."

The owner of the 72-year old bridge, the MTA -no doubt at the behest of Ms. Kennedy -secretly employed the area traffic reporters to help get the new name to stick. Saying if the broadcasters that give traffic updates every ten minutes adopt the new name in their reports, the public will surely follow. Not so much. That didn't work. This got me thinking about corporate sponsorships and "naming rights". Corporations pay big money not only for the naming rights to a new a stadium but to affix their names to existing fields and arenas... Is it worth the money? Is it a wise investment?

On one hand, the naming rights sold to brand new venues have largely been accepted. Especially when the company has strong local ties to the area. For instance: Heinz Field in Pittsburgh or Coors Field in Denver. Whereas the renaming of arenas is often met with disapproval from just about everyone. Naturally some say its "selling out" and refuse to use the new name, preferring instead to use the former non-branded name, especially in colloquial situations. Among older people, rebranding can lead to confusion when there may be a lengthy period during which the facility is known by both names not unlike the RFK Triborough Bridge.

Selling the naming rights to an already-existing facility has been notably LESS successful because people are gonna call it what they've BEEN calling it regardless of how much money has changed hands behind the scenes. Take Candlestick Park in San Francisco for instance. Nobody called it "3Com Park" but for 7 years from 1995 - 2002, 3Com was paying close to one million dollars a year to have the stadium bear their brand. Naturally, there was a revolt and San Francisco fans continued to call the stadium what it had been known as for over three decades: Candlestick Park. When the agreement with 3Com expired, like a hot potato the rights were resold to Monster Cable, and the stadium was renamed Monster Park. San Francisco voters had the final say however, passing an initiative which stipulated that the stadium's name would finally at long last revert to Candlestick Park once the naming rights contract with Monster Cable expired. And in the case of the aforementioned bridge - people are gonna call it what they've always called it regardless of the ribbon cutting, marketing campaigns and edicts from the daughters of famous Senators.

Its been almost a year and still it hasn't caught on. The big random renaming of the Triborough Bridge has been an epic fail. The bridge may now say "'Robert F. Kennedy Bridge" on it but everyone still knows it as the good ole Triborough Bridge. And the traffic reporters seem to have agreed upon referring to it as "the RFK Triborough Bridge" in their traffic reports. Just as Ms. Kennedy defied them to.

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