What's in a Name?
It's just a name.
It's just a game.
And now it's over -- with Denver the loser.
But we have only ourselves to blame. We should have known the score the second Pat Bowlen's lobbyists showed up at the Colorado Legislature three years ago, arguing that the Broncos' owner needed a new stadium if he was going to realize the kind of revenues he needed to create another Super Bowl-caliber team and, not incidentally, be convinced to keep the Broncos in Colorado.
If the game were played by real rules, Denver might have gotten points for the fact that the Broncos' lease at Mile High Stadium ran for two more decades. Financially savvy fans might have gained an edge by reminding legislators that NFL salary caps would ensure that excess revenues went into Bowlen's pocket rather than his players' payroll. And someone, anyone -- Mayor Wellington Webb, for example -- might have suggested that it was important to hammer out the naming-rights issue before the legislation was passed so that no one would get stuck balancing "fiduciary responsibility" against "public sentiment" against outright greed.
But those niggling details were blown away by the power of Bowlen's offensive drive. He'd written the rule book for this game. It was his way, or the Broncos hit the highway.
And so lawmakers voted to create the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which would take the question of a new, largely taxpayer-funded stadium to voters in six counties -- and then, if the measure passed, oversee construction of the $400 million stadium, including the possible sale of naming rights to the facility. The Bowlen offense -- aided by some sincere cheerleading from Broncos fans and abetted by little in the way of organized opposition -- pushed the vote to victory.
Since then, Bowlen has continued to rack up wins. At this point, it would take a miracle to stop him.
Mile High Stadium used to be known for miracles.
But Mile High Stadium no longer exists.
We lost it the second we voted to build Pat Bowlen a new pigskin palace.
Corporate sponsorships have a long, cantankerous history in this town.
A century ago, William F. Cody was not only Colorado's best-known commodity, he was the most recognizable figure in the world. As Buffalo Bill traveled around Europe with his Wild West Show, he needed no more advance billing than a poster showing his own silhouette inside that of a buffalo, along with the words "I Am Coming."
But Cody was a better promoter than he was a businessman. By 1912, he was close to bankrupt. In desperation, he got a large loan from Harry H. Tammen -- "an unscrupulous businessman," according to the British catalogue for the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show now at the Colorado Heritage Center, and one who just happened to be the owner of the Denver Post. The next year, when the loan came due, Cody couldn't pay it. He wound up losing his own Wild West Show and was forced to sell himself to Tammen's Sells-Floto circus, a touring extravaganza named after the Post's sports editor.
Even then, sports was big business.
Even then, naming rights could get very controversial.
The circus was back in town January 22, when Dean Singleton, the current owner of the Denver Post, collected $60 million from E. W. Scripps -- the amount the Rocky Mountain News's corporate owner had to pay in order for the News to become a full partner with the Post in the joint operating agreement that now governs the business operations of both papers.
That same day, another $60 million deal was announced at a meeting of the Metropolitan Football Stadium District Board. After a fall filled with rumors, finger-pointing and beer-fueled campaigning against selling the stadium name, the MFSD finally revealed that it had received a proposal from Invesco Funds, which was willing to pay $120 million for the naming rights to both the inside and the outside of the new stadium -- with the proceeds to be divided equally between the Broncos (ostensibly for the inside rights) and the taxpayers (for the outside rights).
A week later, the MFSD board signed off on the deal, after a sideshow of heartfelt testimony from fans who wanted to keep the Mile High name -- and from the sole dissenter, a man who demanded that the naming rights be sold, because the taxpayers had already paid enough for Pat Bowlen's new palace. "The Broncos are not our team," he said. "It's Pat Bowlen's team."
And we all should have known the score long ago.
When the new facility opens, it will bear the odd name of Invesco Field at Mile High. Mile High what is up to you -- as long as it's anything but "stadium." Adding that word would have been a deal-breaker, Tim Romani, who negotiated the sale, assured members of the board.
Members of the board of what should now be known as the Metropolitan Football District. If a $60 million payday for Bowlen can excise one word from the giant athletic arena/entertainment complex/touring extravaganza/cash cow that taxpayers are building for the Broncos, then surely the board doesn't get to use it, either. Whatever they're building, it's not a stadium.
Although Invesco was the company that finally pushed through the loophole that Bowlen's lobbyists had built into the enabling legislation three years ago, it could just as easily have been any one of the national/international conglomerates that have less in common with Denver than the Sells-Floto circus. Once the Broncos killed the so-called "white knight" deal -- a concept floated last fall that would have allowed three locally based companies, including Coors and Janus, to band together to buy the naming rights inside and leave the Mile High name outside on what would truly have been a stadium -- it was inevitable that someone would do the deal.
Colorado's been sold out before. Buffalo Bill became a Denver Post mascot. John Deutschendorf was a goggle-eyed yodeler who became much more marketable when he changed his last name to Denver. And Coors, which now seems such a beloved part of the landscape, is just a beer, after all.
And so Invesco will alienate some investors and collect some bad press and, if it's lucky, keep operating under the Invesco moniker long enough to realize a few benefits from the naming-rights sale.
Long enough so that those with long memories forget what Denver lost.
At a Colorado Symphony Orchestra performance of Pirates of Penzance this past weekend, the Modern Major-General substituted some decidedly modern lyrics for the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta:
When I know that certain people
think there's nothing that they can't buy --
Oh, let them call it what they want
But we will call it Mile High!
Let them call it what they want
But we will call it Mile High!
Invesco once sponsored the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, too.
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