AND NOW, LIVE FROM ENRON FIELD ... by Daniel Honan
by Daniel Honan
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
NEW YORK -- When Houston Astros fans file into their team's stadium for the home opener of the 2002 baseball season on April 2, will they see that familiar corporate insignia with a giant "E" emblazoned on the centerfield scoreboard?
Will those watching at home hear Astors broadcaster Jim Deshaies announce, "Live from Enron Field ... ."?
Astros executives aren't too comfortable with that dateline, and they have filed a motion to terminate their so-called Names and License Agreement with Enron in United States Bankruptcy Court. They claim the team has been adversely affected by the "negative public perception" resulting from Enron's "alleged bad business practices."
Yet Enron's next installment of approximately $3.3 million in the agreement is not due until mid-season, which means that for now they still retain the rights to use the name. (The $100 million deal was to be paid out over 30 years). Meanwhile, according to a Houston Astros official, the stadium is being referred to as "Astros Field."
While a bankruptcy judge decides whether it is Astros or Enron Field, the world of baseball should reassess a practice that has at the very least cheapened our national pastime. And in a broader sense, the act of selling naming rights to corporations underscores the sleazy way that baseball is financed today.
New ballparks around the nation sport names such as Bank One Ballpark, Safeco Field and Qualcomm Stadium, and these have mostly been built with public money. This has been accomplished in part by holding cities hostage, whereby a team has threatened to leave unless a new stadium is built with public funds. (Enron Field cost taxpayers $248 million after the Astros threatened to leave the Houston area.)
However, the most distinctive features in these new stadiums are their corporate amenities, including luxury suites where the politicians who broke open the public treasury to build the new stadium can mingle with business executives and all sing their version of "Take me out to the plush corporate skybox."
Yet if we are to believe Commissioner Bud Selig, baseball needs all the financial help it can get. This winter there have been battles over contraction and whispers of a work stoppage that may occur within the next two years. Meanwhile, no progress has been made on critical issues like revenue sharing, which would make small-market teams competitive. It is safe to say that no progress will be made until teams like the Anaheim Angels (owned by Disney) stop pretending they're the penniless Minnesota Twins, one of the teams that Selig has tried to eliminate through contraction.
As for the Twins, they have a promising suitor, Donald Watkins, who would become the first African American owner in baseball if allowed. So what's the holdup? While Forbes magazine estimates the market value of the Twins at $99 million, their present owner, Carl Pohlad, is friends with Bud Selig, who has promised on behalf of Major League Baseball to pay Pohlad $250 million to make the Twins disappear.
Selig, whose daughter now runs his former franchise, the Milwaukee Brewers, knows just how much the Brewers stand to gain from the dissolution of the Twins. Without a team, Minnesota fans will have nowhere to turn for baseball but Milwaukee.
These glaring conflicts of interest make it hard to believe the commissioner's office is really putting what is best for baseball ahead of what is best for an owner looking to cash out of baseball. Worse yet, many suspect that Selig is pulling a reverse-Enron, cooking the books to make it look like baseball owners are losing money. Selig recently alleged such nonsense in front of a Congressional committee in order to convince Congress to maintain baseball's Anti-Trust Exemption.
I'm not falling for the crocodile tears of the Houston Astros either. They accepted Enron's money as readily as any politician in Washington. And the payoff for Enron proved to be - to borrow a word popularized in a Mastercard/Major League Baseball advertisement - priceless.
As the Houston Chronicle reported, the name Enron Field did "wonders for the ambitious company's quest of making a name for itself across the nation and around the world."
Now disgraced, the Enron company still views the naming rights as a valuable asset, and does not plan to give them up without a fight. I say let them keep it. The Enron emblem should remain on the scoreboard in Houston as a bald reminder of the corrupting influence of money on our national pastime