A Bridge Too Corporate

January 6, 2007

Posted by Jay Livingston

The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was a close one, so was the Meineke Car Care Bowl played in Bank of America Stadium, unlike the FedEx Orange Bowl or the Citi Rose Bowl and the Allstate Sugar Bowl (formerly the Nokia Sugar Bowl).

OK, you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you have to be of a certain age to remember when these games took place without the benefit of corporate sponsorship and in stadiums named for cities or universities or heroes, not businesses, and with no corporate logos painted on the grass.

Maybe we are becoming more and more tolerant of corporations trading their help to “public” institutions in exchange for the right to use those institutions for their own publicity and profit. Schools, always underfunded, are natural targets for Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The school gets some money; the companies get an exclusive for their sugar-water and snack machines. “Public” television, similarly starved for funds, turns to corporations, who in turn get to have their names announced in connection with an honorable cause.

Now we have the Geico George Washington Bridge. For about $1.6 million a year (a bargain according to advertising experts), Geico will have billboards over the tollbooths at the Bridge, signs on the approach ramps, and their logo on the Port Authority’s Website and mail.

In another era perhaps, this encroachment of corporate profit-making and image-mongering might have been unthinkable. Roads and bridges were the responsibility of government. Now as I drive, I see signs telling me that some stretch of highway is being kept clean thanks to Donald Trump. I wonder how far the privatization of once public facilities will creep. All we have to do is keep starving our schools, museums, libraries, and other public institutions. Where else can they turn but to corporations?

I look forward to the approaches to the Lincoln Tunnel in New York and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with ads for the Lincoln Navigator. The National Gallery brought to you by GE, the Bank of America Grand Canyon . . . .


Brad Wright said...

This raises a humorous question: What would be the worst business--public works sponsorship?

E.g., A highway sponsored by liability lawyers?

Jay Livingston said...

The Washington Post's Style Invitational had a similar competition two years ago. Most of the entries were for events rather than places, e.g., "The Evander Holyfield Story, brought to you by Tyson Chicken Bites," or "The Success of Jeb Bush, brought to you by Hasbro."

The results were published Feb. 20, 2005. If you can't get it online, I can e-mail you a copy.