Tampa Bay Times should not be paying for name on Forum

By Joe Polito COLUMNIST
On February 6, 2012

Any fan watching the Tampa Bay Lightning face off against the Florida Panthers on Saturday couldn't help but notice the Tampa Bay Times logo scattered about the arena.

Though it's quite common to have companies buying the mental real estate that comes with the name of a sports arena, newspapers should stay away from this for both ethical and fiscal reasons.

In 2002, what was then called the St. Petersburg Times became the first newspaper to buy naming rights for a sports arena. An article published that year by Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute - which is associated with Times Publishing Co. - raised ethical questions concerning "financial partnerships that connect a journalism organization to corporations and government agencies that are on the receiving end of news coverage."

Steele pointed out that the Forum has financial ties to the Hillsborough County government and the Tampa Sports Authority. The Times remains one of the most respected newspapers in the country and accompanied news of the partnership with reassuring statements that they would maintain neutrality.

Ethical dilemmas aside, there's one thing you can't debate: the $33 million over 12 years the Times is forking over to slap their moniker on the stadium, according to the American Journalism Review.

Data from payscale.com shows that American newspaper journalists average salaries between $21,551 and $65,227. The $2.75 million the newspaper pays for the name per year could theoretically go toward hiring between 42 and 127 people within that pay range.

Extra cash like this might have helped during last year's announcement of pay cuts, slashed benefits and impending layoffs. According to The Tampa Tribune, one laid-off employee guessed that around 10 veteran journalists were part of the Times' downsizing in October.

This year, the Times has a new name to embody the expansive reach of its newscoverage. When comparing this move to the multimillion-dollar deal with the Forum, the name change seems like a much cheaper way to accomplish the same goal of increased recognition outside of St. Petersburg. Keeping the Forum naming rights for another 12 years might be overkill.

In tough financial times for print publications, it's no wonder the Times made the move they did in 2002. What better way is there to stick it to the competition than to brand your name into the heart of their city and force them to repeat your name while reporting on events for 10-plus years? But knowing what they know now, those in charge of these decisions should opt not to sign on for another 12 years of naming rights when their contract expires in 2014.

Instead, they should devote their resources to keeping journalists employed and ensuring the quality product their award-winning paper is known for. Newspapers should operate differently than other businesses. Let's leave these not-so-cheap promotional tricks to the 1-800-ASK-Garys and Tropicanas of the world.

Joe Polito is a senior majoring in mass communications.

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