Newspapers are in a load of hurt. We sell good stuff cheap (sound familiar, fans of bankrupt Building 19?), but fewer consumers are willing to pay, even though our stories are read, viewed, listened to, and, yes, picked apart today more than at any time in the pre- or post-Bible era.
The day-to-day content of most sports sections in large metropolitan papers is great, some days astounding. Eyeballs, to steal a TV phrase, increase exponentially. Yet it’s virtually impossible to get out of the red. Traditional print journalism is holding on by the thread of an old printer’s tattered apron.
There is, especially in sports, voracious consumer appetite for what we do, in part, I maintain, because TV, cable, radio, and many online products are ill-disguised media propagandists of the very sports, teams, and athletes they cover. NFL.com is great entertainment. If you’ve bookmarked it as your primary source for truth in football, if you can handle the truth, then I think you and Stevan Ridley have an equal grip on reality.
Thankfully, most consumers can discern the difference between those media entities that spin the team theme and those that try to deliver truth in the form of news, analysis, and opinion. I like all the latter with a dash of humor baked in, but laughs are extremely hard to find these days, especially when working here deep in the belly of a torpedoed industry. As I’ve said to family and friends for the past five years, the details of my death would be fascinating, if only they weren’t so personal.
I think there is an obvious answer for the newspaper business at large: naming rights. We may not like them. We may do our best to ignore them. Fact is, most of us probably pay them no never mind. They’re there, like right fielders and offensive linemen, although who really cares about them? They are essential nuisances. But as the sports world has shown for the last, oh, 30-40 years, naming rights have proliferated, are obscenely lucrative, and they are not going away.
So, I give you The Home Depot Boston Globe. Or the Jet Blue Washington Post. Or the UPS Los Angeles Times. Take those corporate names and put them at the very top of Page One, hand-in-font with the name of the papers themselves. And charge them, oh, maybe $50 million or $100 million for a 10-year commitment as the paper’s title sponsor.
John Henry, bless his darned red socks, just paid $70 million to buy the Globe. I say sell the masthead, John, and take one bold, giant step to the black. Just like The Home Depot, you can do it, I can help.
What, dear readers, that offends your journalistic senses? Same here. But only for a moment, which is the nature of naming rights, and really the nature of all advertising in today’s 50 United Brands of America. Heck, here in the Ace Hardware Hub of the Universe, we’ve easily embraced “Gillette’’ as the host town of the Patriots. The razor blade company bought both the stadium and the town.
Do you know anyone who says they’re going to Foxborough (it does have a “gh’’ at the end, right?) next Sunday to see the Patriots-Browns game? No way. They’re going to Gillette, out there near Sharon and Wrentham and the Auto Mile. If I knew how to operate a GPS, I would type in Gillette, Mass., and I’m pretty sure it would get me to the game. But I also flunked VCR and DVD school, so consider the source.
Now, TD Garden is another story. The building along Causeway Street was formally known as the Shawmut Center, but that brand went belly-up before the New Garden’s doors opened. Then came the FleetCenter. Then TD Banknorth Garden. Now it has been truncated to TD Garden, but most locals just say “Gahden.’’ I gave up at the outset and branded it The Vault. If I do say so myself, the generic version has held up way better than the bank biz. The branding hasn’t exactly struck out at the Gahden, but Gillette is a .400 hitter and TD is a Punch and Judy .218.
We’re newspapers. We’re not going away, no matter how bleak the forecasts. But our time has come to give up the noble distancing of corporate sponsorship and the day-to-day noble endeavor of journalism. Everyone else has given it up. Why not us?
I have to believe, based on the multibillion-dollar industry of companies eager to slap their names on the sides of big box brick-and-mortar arenas and ballparks, that a few of those same companies would pay at least equal dollars to be the “presenting sponsor’’ of some of America’s great legacy news providers.
The Globe’s weekly circulation runs upward of 2 million (combining print and digital buyers) for a total of approximately 100 million per annum. The Patriots bring nearly 70,000 to Gillette for 10 or more games a season. Gillette also plays host to Revolution soccer, UMass football, concerts, and other gatherings big and small.
Just do the math. Does Gillette come close to attracting the 100 million sets of eyeballs the Globe delivers each year? TD, if packed to the hot dog stands, might be able to squeeze 20,000 through the doors for an event. All they need there is 5,000 full houses annually to equal the Globe’s 100 million. That’s roughly 14 sellouts a day, 365 days a year. Note to my pals in the Bullgang, you can do it, but I definitely cannot help.
Selling naming rights won’t make everything right for the newspaper industry. But it would be a Monster.com shot in the arm. I think other sponsors would follow. Inside sections, such as sports and business and automotive, could be sold to separate sponsors. The model is there. It works. The sports world has proven it for decades time and time again.
We might even come up with a title sponsor right here for Sunday’s Page 2 of the sports section, where I hang out each week with pals Stan Grossfeld, Bob Ryan, and now Leigh “Return to Sender’’ Montville. You know, the ABC-TV Extreme Makeover Homeboys Page 2. Ryan does all the talking. Grossfeld provides picture and caption. I look for a deeper meaning. Montville, as always, leaves us all laughing.
Where else can you get all that? We can do it. You can help.