In the past 30 years a number of practices emerged as de rigueur companions to the proposed construction of a new sporting ground or stadium. While some are forgotten once the stadium opens and the games begin, School of Architecture professor Benjamin Flowers says one is inescapable: the selling of naming rights.
Currently the Atlanta Falcons play in the Georgia Dome, a stadium whose name speaks to the geographic location of the team and its fan base. In 2017 the Falcons will play in Mercedes-Benz stadium, whose name is placeless (yes, Mercedes-Benz is moving their headquarters to Georgia, but I wonder how many fans track corporate HQ locations).
The Falcons are hardly alone in having their new stadium named after a multi-national corporation. They are not even the only NFL team playing in a Mercedes-branded ground—their fierce rivals the New Orleans Saints play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. These names are not only placeless, but also largely ahistorical. They reference nothing about the team’s past, nor say much about its future (PR-speak about shared ambitions to be the best in their respective endeavors aside).
This is hardly confined to the Falcons. Of the 31 active NFL stadia (the Jets and the Giants share one), you can count on one hand those grounds whose name in some way speaks to the history of the team or the site of the stadium (Lambeau, “the Ralph,” or Paul Brown Stadium for instance). One, Soldier Field in Chicago, serves as a memorial to fallen American servicemen, similar to the English habit of naming certain stands “the Kop,” after a battle hill from the Boer War.
All of this is simply a reminder that sports teams in the United States operate on the same terrain as any other business. Revenue streams matter in ways history and place do not. The paradox is that because this is so, stadia materialize and reflect back to us the values of our society in ways few other buildings do so vividly. The reality is state and city officials leveraged millions in public funds and tax credits to bring Mercedes-Benz to Atlanta and to keep the Falcons. Making the announcement of the sponsorship deal, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said of Mercedes “their values mesh with those of the Falcons.” He is exactly right.
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