Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Given that it's happening this Saturday, I guess I should finally take some time to acknowledge the biggest sporting event in North America right now: The Hockey Heritage Classic. I'm sure you all know what it is, but this is just for little Zamf in Uzbekistan who might be surfing in.

So what is the Hockey Heritage Classic? Well, this NHL season marks the 25th Anniversary of the Edmonton Oilers. Naturally, they wanted to do something special to celebrate. So, they organized a big event around their Saturday game with the Montreal Canadians. They came up with a special hockey double-header. First up will be an alumni game. Many of the top Oilers of all time vs. many of the top Habs of all time. They've already got the greats of the Oilers' 80s dynasty signed on to play: Gretzky, Messier, Kuri, and all the rest. After this exhibition game, we'll have the regular season game between the current Oilers and Habs. But what makes this really special is that it's not happening at Rexall Place. (More on that later.) Oh, no. This is happening at Commonwealth Stadium.

That's right. It's all outdoors. When the Oilers and Habs square off, it'll be the first outdoor regular season game in NHL history.

This has been the hottest ticket in Edmonton since August. On the news tonight, they showed hockey fans coming from as far away as Virginia to check this out. For this weekend, Edmonton's City Hall has become a "mini-Hockey Hall of Fame." And now, it's also been learned that officials from the Toronto Maple Leafs have come to see how this is organized, so they can have a Heritage Classic of their own when the Leafs' Centennial comes up. And, since I'm currently studying broadcasting (and thus, sports coverage) in Edmonton, you can figure out that this has been a topic of discussion in class since the semester began.

So there. Like every other Edmonton broadcaster, I've done my Heritage Classic Tie-In.

Now, this Rexall Place nonsense. When I was a kid, the building where the Oilers play was called "Northlands Coliseum." This was because it was part of the Northlands Sports Park. Then, the owner of the Oilers wanted control of the building so he could reap more profits. He got control, business ties with the Northlands Sports Park were severed, and the building was renamed "The Edmonton Coliseum." The owner of the Oilers sold the team, and it was bought by a coalition of some 50 local businesses and comic creator Todd McFarlane. A member of the coalition owned the Skyreach Heavy Equipment Company, so he lobbied to have the building renamed "Skyreach Centre." He got his way, and the building has been Skyreach Centre for the past 5 years or so. Now, today, November 20, 2003, the contract between the Oilers Ownership Group (the formal designation of the coalition) and Mr. Skyreach expired. Another member of the Oilers Ownership Group snapped up the new contract. He just happens to be the founder and owner of the Rexall Pharmacy chain. So, the new name of the building is "Rexall Place." That's going to be the name of the Oilers' home ice for the next 20 years or so, under this contract.

Now, we're all aware that major league sports are another big business today, and it's a big business I'm not very interested in. But this is one aspect that really sickens me: big companies buying the "naming rights" to these buildings. I mean, these companies pay hundreds of millions of dollars to name these buildings after themselves. What the hell have these companies done that makes them worthy of having a building named after them? Why do we have to slap another logo or trademark on a BUILDING of all things?

I first got pissed off over this when, in the mid-90s, I read about Canadian Airlines spending $50 million for the naming rights of the Saddledome in Calgary. Originally, it was just "the Saddledome." Why? Because the building looks like a saddle! Nice and simple. Then, Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, and the Olympic hockey games were played in the Saddledome. Because of this, they justifiably renamed the place, "The Olympic Saddledome." Then, in the mid-90s, for the lo lo price of $50M, they dropped the Olympics and became "The Canadian Airlines Saddledome." Of course, Canadian Airlines no longer exists, so if I remember correctly, the place is now called the " Saddledome."

If that's not metaphoric for this whole thing, then I don't know what is. The Olympics, originally intended to be a celebration of amateur sport, pushed aside at the promise of big bucks. This whole "naming rights" thing was my turning point that made me realize how much the sports world had sold out.

And that's all I have to say tonight. I was also going to throw in some updates on movies based on Marvel comics, but it's time for Conan O'Brian.

Next Issue...Live from the Chaos In A Box.com Arena!

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