February 24, 2009

A Word From Our Sponsors

Several years and a lifetime ago I was an investment banker working on the bankruptcy proceedings of Conseco, an insurance company whose liquidation was, at the time, the fourth biggest in U.S. history. While the company made national news for its financial woes, it was better known in the community for its Conseco Fieldhouse, home to the Indianapolis Pacers.

Conseco and its stadium are still around, but some others aren't so lucky.

Take for example Enron Field, where the Houston Astros played -- when that company went under, it was renamed Minute Maid Park. Makes sense, I suppose -- orange juice sounds more inviting than oil, especially corrupt oil. Then there's PSINet Stadium where the Baltimore Ravens used to play and Adelphia Coliseum, formerly homefield for the Tennessee Titans.

More recently the nation's banks have come under fire for keeping their names attached to sports arenas -- Citigroup is paying $400 million for its name to fly above the brand new home for the New York Mets even as the company is expected to post yet another loss in the first quarter.

With the Dow Industrial Average at the lowest levels in more than a decade, it's interesting that companies struggling to hold onto any penny they can find continue to sponsor teams or tournaments which have little to do with their businesses.

And tennis is no exception. Look at some of the logos gracing the major tournaments: BNP Paribas' stars are all over the French Open, JPMorgan has more than a few box seats at Flushing Meadows, and Barclays' name features high in what's become a very controversial tournament in Dubai.

But maybe there's something to be said for such backing during crises. When accepting his trophy at last week's Regions Morgan Keegan Championship in Memphis, Andy Roddick even acknowledged the irony when thanking the sponsor:

"We all know it's a tough economy out there, so we really appreciate your support with this event."

Sure he does -- the bank awarded him $300K along with his title.

But maybe there's an intangible at work here -- the positive PR associated with being an involved member of the community could be worth more in goodwill than any of the potential costs.

It may not be quite the same as a bailout. But maybe it's a step in the right direction

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