By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor
After being banned from the Internet for 14 1/2 days, I’ve admitted that I bet on baseball and have been reinstated by VeloNews.com. So, my first column of the new year is a little late, and I’ve got some catching up to do.
Like many, I rang in 2004 by watching some or all of the following: the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, the FedEx Orange Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the Nokia Sugar Bowl 2004 National Championship. No, this isn’t going to be another BCS-bashing column – it’s a little late for that, even for me. But watching those games each year is a reminder of the commercialization of sport, and how naming rights to just about every sports entity is up for grabs to the highest bidder. From the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi to Chicago Bears Football presented by Bank One to Denver’s Invesco Field at Mile High, naming-rights deals are everywhere, and they’re not going to stop (although in a refreshing change in the other direction, Edison International Field was recently renamed Angel Stadium of Anaheim after the utility company opted out of its naming-rights agreement).
Fortunately, while these deals fill the coffers of the teams and satisfy the corporations’ desire to be associated with the sports scene, the rest of us aren’t bound by these agreements, so we’re free to refer to them as simply the Rose Bowl and Da Bears. In Denver, The Denver Post caused a stir after Invesco’s $120 million deal with the Broncos was announced when the paper said it would be referring to the new stadium as Mile High, rather than Invesco Field at Mile High. That never really seem to stick, however, as Invesco just seemed to fit better than the “Mile High” tacked on at the end to try to evoke the old Mile High Stadium, and these days the Post often does refer to the stadium by its full, corporate name.
The point is, whatever price the big corporations pony up for naming, the fans and media can call the teams, stadiums and games whatever they darn well please.
In cycling, however, where the sponsor’s name and the team identity are one and the same, we pretty much have no choice but to refer to the teams by their sponsors’ names. Still, there are plenty of variations in play. U.S. Postal riders get dubbed Posties, the Navigators become the Navs or Française des Jeux becomes FDJ, which it officially did, sort of, when the team was renamed fdjeux.com
What really got me thinking about branding was a recent official e-mail from the Navs – er, the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team – outlining the team’s name change from the Navigators Cycling Team to the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team. Now, at first glance I thought this to be a somewhat moot (Moots?) point, as VeloNews has always referred to the team as the Navigators, never the Navigators Cycling Team, and I figured that in the future, it’d still be the Navigators, and not the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team. Sort of like when U.S. Postal Service became the U.S. Postal Service Professional Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor. For space considerations alone, the full name – U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor – has never appeared in VeloNews — nor has the shortened U.S. Postal Service presented by Berry Floor. At various times, U.S. Postal-Berry Floor, or USPS-Berry Floor may have crept into the results section, but I think I prefer Postal-Berry, which sounds like one of Count Chocula’s buddies.
But the more I thought about it, the more the full team names began to appeal to me. Hey, if the United States Postal Service Professional Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor counterattacks after a rider from LeMond Fitness-Captain CRA Z Soap presented by Blender is caught by the peloton, and the Navigators Insurance Cycling Team takes up the chase after the Webcor KOM at the T-Mobile International presented by BMC Software, I’m well on my way to churning out a couple of thousand words for VeloNews: The Journal of Competitive Cycling.
So, for the New Year, I do solemnly resolve to give full title props to the teams and races of the U.S. peloton. Unless I get really crunched for time, in which case you might be reading about the Navs chasing down the Posties. Or Postal-Berries.