IF YOU HAVE wondered what to make of the new naming rights deal for the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, you have come to the right place. There is a lot of history behind arrangements such as this, so pull up a chair.
The six-year, $7.5 million contract -- proceeds to be shared by the stadium authority and the Oakland Raiders -- ensures that the charmless, concrete soup bowl where the A's and Raiders lose their home games will soon bear the name of a website you have never have visited: Overstock.com.
This follows the stadium's previous turns under the Network Associates and McAfee branding overlords and a brief return to its original name from when it opened in 1966. Some purists yearn for those days of innocence, but only wide-eyed traditionalists indulge nostalgia in today's big-bucks sports world.
Overstock.com Coliseum is really not such a strange name: When the A's are playing, think of it as referring to the thousands of excess unused seats. For the Raiders, it hints at a surplus of empty promises -- nine years since a playoff berth.
The new title sponsor is an online liquidator that offers cut-rate prices on surplus inventories of furniture, clothing, baby supplies, luggage and almost anything but winning seasons. It's so keen on cutting, it is even thinking of trimming its name to O.co. When that day comes, pick the stadium name of your choice. We're going with the "Big O."
There may not seem to be a tie-in between an online shopping site and a stadium, but common sense never has been important for sports sponsorships. Waste Management, a trash disposal company, sponsors a PGA tournament. Poulan Weed Eater once bought naming rights for a college bowl game.
Stamping commercial branding onto sports venues is a venerable tradition.
It's believed that Fenway Park was named as much for club owner John Taylor's Fenway Realty Company as it was for the neighborhood in which it was built. Chicago's Wrigley Field served as a branding platform for owner William Wrigley's real enterprise, chewing gum.
Beer baron August Busch Jr., former owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, planned to have his team play in Budweiser Stadium until the commissioner's office ruled thumbs down. Instead, it became Busch Stadium.
Only after corporations started dialing up multimillion-dollar signage deals did they draw public attention, but they are so expected now that hardly anyone stumbles over the names. If you find a facility without a sponsor attached, you feel like Balboa discovering the Pacific.
The San Diego Padres play at Petco Park, the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome, the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center and the University of Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. (Even the Overstock.com Coliseum sounds better than that.)
Sometimes one sponsor begets another, or have you forgotten that the San Francisco Giants have played in Pac Bell Park, SBC Park and AT&T Park in the past 10 years? The Giants change stadium names as often as they change socks.
This naming rights business is only apt to increase. There are so many other attractions that companies haven't yet covered with trademarks.
How about the Starbucks Space Needle? Or Google Grand Canyon? Imagine promoters salivating over the cross-marketing possibilities of YouTube Yellowstone Park.
The most intriguing aspect of the Coliseum deal is that any commercial enterprise clamors for the association.
As everyone in San Jose knows, the A's don't want anything to do with the place.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.