The curse of the naming rights continues. Just as the Brooklyn Nets are about to settle into the brand-new Barclays Center, the bank for which the NBA team's arena is named has plunged into scandal. The British bank has been ordered to pay $450 million in fines for manipulating global interest rates and several executives have resigned.
The Nets are not alone in having their new digs christened by a tainted corporation. The New York Mets moved into Citi Field in 2009 after sponsor Citigroup accepted $45 billion in government bailouts for dropping the ball in the financial crisis. The Houston Astros occupied what was once Enron Field, whose namesake energy company famously cooked its books and fell into bankruptcy.
The good news for the Nets -- and good news was rare before the team's recent move to Brooklyn -- is that any bad association stemming from the Barclays name should pass, PR experts told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.
Marketing maven Peter Shankman said if you asked 30 people in Times Square about the Barclays mess, 29 would have no idea what you're talking about. The Nets likely have a morality clause with Barclays, Shankman added, but the situation is not yet extreme enough to affect general public perception. "If it comes out that the CEO fixed prices while murdering seven orphans, yes, they'll probably want to rename the center," he joked.
Liz Goodgold of Redfire Branding echoed Shankman. "It’s important to remember that this is not front-page news outside of the finance community," she said. "More Americans, for example, are aware and intrigued by the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split than in the nuances of this brouhaha."
Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5WPR public relations who repped former NBA players Allan Houston and Jalen Rose, said the history of the team works in its favor. "I think Brooklyn and the Nets are brands in the process of building together, and the truth is, Barclays isn't really something which can hurt the Nets at this point," he said. "I think on both the NBA totem pole and in New York professional sports, the Nets don't exactly rank very well in terms of brand value or brand awareness, so Barclays won't really make it worse for them."
A representative for the Nets declined to comment Tuesday. Barclays is reportedly paying $200 million over 20 years for the Nets' arena to bear its name.
If the word of some branding wonks can't comfort the NBA franchise, the Nets can always check the history books for naming deals that really went south.
In 2002, the Astros finally were able to rescind Enron's 30-year, $100 million naming deal. The NFL's New England Patriots never got to play in CMGI Field in 2000 because CMGI hit hard times when the dot-com bubble burst and pulled back its $114 million contract before the team's first game. The venue became Gillette Stadium instead. Another dot-com victim, Internet service provider PSINet, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy after two seasons on the marquee of the Baltimore Ravens' stadium. The Tennesee Titans once played in Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville, but corruption sank Adelphia into bankruptcy and the cable company surrendered its naming rights.
The sports world abounds with teams tied up in naming contracts with companies that are crooked or go belly up. The teams play on. The names of the stadiums often change. There's always another corporation willing to play ball.