Popping off on corporate sponsors - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Popping off on corporate sponsors

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Posted: Sunday, July 6, 2003 3:12 am | Updated: 1:54 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Sometimes things come out of the chute perfect.

Take Saturday's NASCAR race.

The second race at Daytona was, to use contemporary marketing jargon, branded the Firecracker 400.

Some Madison Avenue firm would have charged tens of thousands of dollars to come up with such a simple name that both captured the time and competitiveness of the event.

But since 1989, the stock car race celebrating America's independence has been run under the moniker Pepsi 400.

Phooey! Gimme a Coke, please.

Oh wait. Hold that order.

Coke's part of this too.

The first of the big three Grand National races of the non-modern era lost its catchy branded name when the World 600 — as in longest race in the world — became the Coca Cola 600 in 1986.

Now there's no getting away from corporate sponsorships. To pay bills and salaries the money can't just come from the paying customer.

But constantly changing names removes some of the tradition that sustains strong relationships with fans.

When Pepsi took over the second Michigan race in 1998, the NASCAR season had two Pepsi 400s.

A new fan to NASCAR in ’98 wouldn't know what or where the race was that celebrates the Fourth of July.

Racing has always been sites.

Indianapolis got it all started. European races were sometimes held in exotic places like Le Mans, Monte Carlo and Monza that became the names of American automobiles.

When the first superspeedway was built in the South, race organizers made it an event for the southern working man. The Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C., was born on Labor Day 1950.

The race's historic heritage also was trampled on in '89 when it was run under the disgusting name Heinz 500.

For the next eight years NASCAR's second-biggest event was run under the names Heinz 500, Mountain Dew 500 and Pepsi 500.

It wasn't until Pepsi's second year as sponsor that the company saw the marketing wisdom of bringing back "Southern." The Southern 500 currently lives as it was born, the Southern 500.

Imagine how the true sports fan would feel if the Super Bowl (another perfect name) became the Microsoft Bowl?

The Masters not being the Masters.

How about the champions of the National and American leagues in baseball playing in the General Motors Series.

You think the GM Series or some such name would conjure images of Babe Ruth, the Gashouse Gang, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Oakland A's, or Luis Gonzalez's hit off Mariano Rivera?

Change not only diminishes tradition, it renders events indistinguishable.

Do an Internet search for MBNA 500 and you'll find Winston Cup races that have been held at Charlotte, N.C.; Atlanta; Martinsville, Va.; and Dover, Del.

In recent years, sports professionals have begun to realize we dislike homogenization. Continuity is one thing, blandness is another.

Those cookie-cutter multi-purpose stadiums of the 1970s have been replaced by facilities with their own characteristics.

College athletics has had to welcome sponsorships with noses held. In some instances, the only way a needed facility can be built is to sell the naming rights.

There was some tough negotiating, but the hallowed Rose Bowl maintained its identity and added AT&T as a sponsor for the BCS. The comprise resulted in the game being called the Rose Bowl presented by AT&T.

The Fiesta Bowl, which brought corporate money to the bowl world, has managed to go through sponsorship changes without losing its identity. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is a workable compromise.

Still it makes you wonder why any corporation would want to fool with such a name that so captures the spirit of the Valley.

Of course that didn't stop Pepsi.

Now Daytona's summer race has been lumped with the same corporate dullness as the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 when it could be the event of the Fourth holiday.

Some change isn't worth succumbing to.

I'm sticking with Firecracker 400.

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