"We're asking $7 million to $9 million for naming rights." — former West Valley City Manager John Patterson, speaking about his city's proposed new hockey arena, now known as the E Center, on Oct. 20, 1995.

You've changed, people.

Time was, not too long ago, you would get all bent out of shape at the very idea that a taxpayer-funded arena would be so "crass" as to sell its name to the highest bidder.

That was your word — crass. You used it again and again in letters to the editor and in phone calls. Here's one this newspaper published in the summer of 1991: "I have been eagerly awaiting a contest to name the new 'Jazz arena,' but since it doesn't appear one will be held, I must respectfully throw my suggestion onto the court: 'Salt Palace West.' ... whatever you do, keep the Salt Palace on the new arena."

You reacted the same way two years later when Salt Lake City decided to build a new baseball stadium and attract the triple-A team now known as the Salt Lake Bees. A Dan Jones & Associates poll back then, conducted for the Deseret News and KSL, found that 50 percent thought it was improper for the city to name the stadium after the highest bidder.

Your arguments back then had to do with community pride. A shiny new stadium or arena was supposed to be a signature structure for a community, at least that's what the politicians said when they wanted taxpayers to support those projects. Taxpayers weren't going to get discounted tickets for their contributions, so they ought to at least get a name reflecting where they lived.

"Salt Palace" said it all. You couldn't find a name that combined local flavor with elegance any better than that. And Derks Field, the old baseball stadium, was named after John C. Derks, a local sports editor. Maybe it wasn't elegant, but it was something no one else had.

You lost those battles, of course. The Delta Center and Franklin Quest, soon changed to Franklin Covey Field, became part of the local lexicon. People moaned when the Delta Center became EnergySolutions Arena, but that was because it was too hard to say, not because the name had been bought.

Now, Franklin Covey's 15-year stadium contract is expiring, and the folks building that new soccer stadium in Sandy are hunting around for a sponsor.

A story in this newspaper last week quoted a University of Oregon business professor as saying the market is getting saturated. So many companies have paid for the rights to so many stadiums that there aren't many companies left — nor does a name bring the bang it once did. That's particularly true for a minor league stadium, which doesn't get a lot of TV exposure outside its own city.

In 1991, only five teams in the nation played in stadiums with corporate-sponsored names. Today, a majority do.

Franklin Covey Field's problem is it's getting to be too old, even though barely 15 years have passed since the first pitch there, and it's in a midsize market. The same professor quoted in last week's story said he doesn't think Real Salt Lake will get the $1.5 million to $2 million annual deal it wants for a name, either.

Honestly, though, you ought to hope they do. You should hope they both set naming-rights records.

Maybe you've lost some of your passion about stadium names because you have finally understood that, while sports is a business, it is a business that relies increasingly on government subsidies. Names that invoke community pride go only so far. They can't offset what you, your Aunt Mabel and everyone else has to pay whether they like it or not.

By the way, the E Center never got the deal West Valley City hoped for all those years ago. Minor league hockey just isn't that big of a draw. The city had an offer, from Coors, but someone wisely decided there are things more important than naming rights.

Come to think of it, though, "E Center" has become a name of unique, local distinction. Together with Ogden's Dee Events Center, it has a sort of alphabetical ring to it.


Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: even@desnews.com