Tuesday, February 14, 2017

McKechnie Field is now Corporate Sponsor Stadium

Last week, I wrote that Clearwater's Bright House Field underwent a name change and is now Spectrum Field. In the final few sentences of my post, I wrote how the change from one corporate sponsor to another typically isn't a big deal for fans. The deal with the devil has already been made, whether you call him Satan, Lucifer, or Old Scratch.

As of last week, there were three stadia in the Tampa Bay area named after people important to baseball in the area. Al Lang Stadium, named after the former St Petersburg mayor, is the home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Steinbrenner Field will always be named after the former Yankees owner as long as the Yankees are present in Tampa. And since 1967, McKechnie Field in Bradenton was named after Hall of Fame manager and late Bradenton resident Bill McKechnie.

"Was" being the operative word.

Unfortunately, in an absolutely horrible marketing move, the Pittsburgh Pirates sold the name of their Bradenton spring training stadium to the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, or LECOM. The facility is now called LECOM Field. According to reports, the City of Bradenton not only received no compensation for the selling of the name, but the people of Bradenton are upset with the change.

As well they should be.

Last Friday, Pirates owner Frank Coonelly stated "LECOM shares our mission to help develop young people into highly trained professionals so that they can pursue their dreams."

Which, interestingly enough, was the same mission as Bill McKechnie when he managed ballplayers. But dead men don't pay naming rights.

Besides the residents of Bradenton, other people upset with the name change include NBC sports baseball writer Craig Calcaterra , Sarasota Herald Tribune columnist Doug Fernandes, and Bill McKechnie's own daughter - who neither the Pirates nor the City of Bradenton informed about the name change.

Seems like an act first, ask questions later decision. Done without taking into account history or public opinion.

While the name change might not affect Pirates spring training attendance, it may affect Bradenton Marauders attendance, which is predominantly driven by local dollars. Locals could vote against the name change by not attending Marauders games. How far fans go to let their frustration known will be interesting to watch this season.

Not a good strategic move considering Maruaders attendance each of the last three seasons, and dropped 15% in 2016 to its lowest level since 2010.

The move also does not reflect well on the Pittsburgh-Bradenton relationship which caused a public relations mess last year when the tourism office distributed Pittsburgh Penguins swag during their playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now the Marauders have to deal with an unpopular stadium rebranding.

Good luck.