The Strategic Name Development blog reports that the naming rights to the New York Mets’ new baseball stadium have been sold to Citigroup. The stadium will be called “CitiField” and the privilege of that garish plug will cost Citigroup $20 million a year, or the cost of a grade-A free agent. The blog post has a great rundown on alternative “Citi” names that were considered, as well as a roundup of back-page and other learned reactions.
CitiGroup is itself a metropolis of trademark issues. The CitiGroup Center, which is right out the window of my office (over my shoulder in the picture), is a landmark building, i.e., a de facto trademark for the company on the New York skyline, of which it is one of the leading and tallest lights. In the picture below, taken from the east, you can see how its distinctive angles tower jauntily over the lovable rust-colored “lipstick”-shaped [former] LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION Building at 885 Third Avenue. But of course, buildings can’t really be trademarks, can they? If they can be, the CitiGroup Center is.
The building changed names, though, when the company did, so we old-timers still call it the Citicorp Center, just as the MetLife Building will always be the Pan Am Building and of course “Avenue of the Americas” always Sixth Avenue. Citicorp had just changed its own name from First National City Corporation, a successor to its original name of City Bank of New York, later National City Bank; and it has had its hands full for decades managing its “City” trademark identity. (The whole timeline is here if you’re that interested.)
As the SND Blog points out, “Citi” is as good a corporate name you’re going to get for a baseball stadium in New York, much less for a team with name roots as the Metropolitans and offspring in New York sports-team namesmanship such as the Jets*, the Nets** , and — yes, I found a link to confirm my recollection! — the defunct New Jersey Sets team of professional womens’ team tennis. Yes, you can close your eyes and pretend the name is really something as retro as “City Field.” And after all — talk about your generic and your descriptive would-be trademarks — around here when we say “the City” we don’t mean Hoboken.
But the whole idea of a sports stadium named after just another company with a skyscraper is so very un-New York and especially, as one of the blogs linked to in the SND blog notes, unthinkable regarding the ballparks / temples of sport myths — in particular, the fields where the Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox play. But of those three, only one, Yankee Stadium, is called after the team itself, the one with the most profound brand equity (not to mention equity equity) in the country, and perhaps the world. And yet they’re tearing down the House that Ruth Built (ah, Ruth — another trademark hyperlink in itself!), and supposedly anything could happen; heck, another season of carrying A-Rod and his paycheck five games into the playoffs and they could end up as the New York Yahoos! or Bronx eBays or something.
* More name-and-geographical-designation confusion: Those are the “New York Jets,” who like the “New York Giants” play in “Giants Stadium” in New Jersey scant miles across the Hudson River but who once played under roar of the JFK Airport flightpath at Shea Stadium, the Mets’ outgoing home.
** Now of New Jersey too but who originally played in the New Jersey of New York.