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Written by Christian Cipriani -- BT Contributor   
April 2013

People and companies love to put their names on things -- and always have

I Pix_Urbania_4-13was driving around in late February, doing last-minute errands before my wedding. On the radio was a story about a private prison company that spent $12 million for naming rights to the Florida Atlantic University football stadium.

No longer content to live in the shadows, the Geo Group is stepping out. But why would a company with no need to market to consumers bother shelling out money to have its name on the side of a stadium? If supporting the team was what mattered, they could have simply donated money.

Only brands that grow market share from being top-of-mind should bother with naming rights. And even then, it brings a dubious return on investment. This kind of vanity branding is usually reserved for Fortune 500s synonymous with a particular city (as demonstrated by Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, for example).

But a wholly unknown entity like Geo Group plunking down money to sponsor a university stadium -- albeit a small, regional one -- is an ego investment. Having their brand in patrons’ faces doesn’t benefit their bottom line, and no one gets a warm, fuzzy feeling about prison because they had an enjoyable afternoon watching football.

In another local story buzzing the press, developer Jorge Perez, CEO of the Related Group, recently donated a hefty package of art and cash to the newest, still-under-construction Miami Art Museum, in exchange for having it named the Perez Art Museum Miami. And I’m sure he could care less about the criticism. It will pass in a year or two, and his name will be on a landmark for the next century.

Philanthropy is a way to transform wealth into immortality. Andrew Carnegie didn’t leave his name on the side of a shopping center. He left it on universities, concert halls, and museums. Long after great men and women die, they trust their names to live on in association with high culture and the public good. (Hats off to Adrienne Arsht, who turned the downtown arts center that bears her name into a true tongue twister.)

So we have philanthropists who buy a cultural legacy for generations, and we have corporations that play the short game, hyper-marketing their brands to the masses. Both of these annoy a thoughtful public for different reasons, but the latter is getting out of control.

Do you know where the Dolphins play? Most people say Dolphin Stadium, or, if they can remember that far back, Joe Robbie Stadium. But it’s now actually on name number seven: Sun Life Stadium. This makes Marlins owner and sports pariah Jeffrey Loria almost look good, since at least his stadium is called Marlins Park (for now).

I’d like to see evidence that these eight-figure deals actually translate into sales for the sponsoring company. Are you booking more flights on American Airlines because the Heat are winning? Did you open a bank account at BB&T after the Bon Jovi concert?

I was lucky enough to spend the first two weeks of March on honeymoon in France and Italy, and I was blown away by ancient egos. People truly never change. Everywhere one sees insane effort and detail rendered for God and country, generations living and dying around one unending project.

On the south side of the Arno River sits Palazzo Pitti, built by a banker who essentially ran Florence. Supposedly, he wanted a house so big the Medici Palace could fit in his garden. He got it. Upstairs is a room wrought with gilded woodwork that took 200 years to complete.

As the Greek saying goes, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Luca Pitti and his ilk weren’t striving for a future good. I enjoy looking at their treasures with awareness that they were, at best, acts of unbridled ego and, at worst, absurd presents to God, built by slaves for the pleasure of religious hypocrites.

Elsewhere we saw the Roman Pantheon (“temple to all gods”), which has the name of the ancient commissioner, statesman, and general Marcus Agrippa inscribed on a frieze, and the Colosseum, which was known as Amphitheatrum Flavium, culled from the family name “Flavius” of Vespasian and Titus, who oversaw the beginning and end of its construction.

In Paris, we saw the Louvre, a name which may refer to its size; and Versailles, an old French place-name that refers to working the earth. Most attractions we visited were named for leaders and locations.

It’s notable that Versailles wasn’t named for the egomaniac that built it. If it were built today, it would be called the Red Bull Louis XIV Absolute Monarch Sun King Ultra Palace, featuring the LVMH Hall of Mirrors VIP Lounge.

What will our current institutions be called in 500 years? Nothing, probably. We no longer create structures to last as long as Roman temples. Today’s entrepreneur-kings and four-year emperors will have to be content with not-so-permanent immortality.

 

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