Richard Sandomir wrote a slightly polemical piece on Citi’s $20 million purchase of naming rights to the Mets’ new ballpark, arguing largely that it’s unfair to the Citi employees who’ve been laid off during the bank’s recent financial troubles. It’s the type of side-by-side comparison that offends our sensibilities: Big, bad, insensitive Corporation and its Greedy Executives light cigars with $100 bills, cackling as they sign pink slips for the proletariat.
The problem is that Sandomir doesn’t address the one question that underlies the comparison: Does Citi get a higher return from spending the $20 million on naming rights and cutting the employees, or would they get a higher return from foregoing the naming rights and keeping the employees?
I don’t know the answer. Neither does Sandomir, but he’s arguing that Citi’s executives have made a mistake without knowing whether or not they did. If the return on the naming rights option is higher than the return on the employee-retention option, then Citi’s executives made the right call for their stockholders, for the remaining employees, and for their own pockets as well. If the return on keeping the employees is higher, then the executives just screwed up. All Sandomir offers, however, is this:
Even in the flush times during which it was signed, the deal seemed questionable. With high name recognition and a place among the world’s banking leaders, Citigroup hardly needed the Citi name plastered on a ballpark to enhance itself. Will fans move their C.D.’s to a Citibank branch because of the Mets relationship, any more than air travelers will consider flying American Airlines because its name is on two professional arenas?
Will the corporate suite-holders at the Mets’ new home want to do more or new business with Citigroup because they share deluxe accommodations at Chez Wilpon?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, Richard. Do you? And if you don’t, why are you asking these questions as if the answers are all going to support your underlying argument that the naming-rights deal is a dud? The closest we get to this is a generic quote from an academic who raises the same questions I do without providing answers, although he misses one of the fundamental (presumed) benefits of stadium naming rights – the frequent repetition of the stadium name during game broadcasts, on news and highlight shows, and in print coverage of games.
Sandomir calls the deal “an investment that seems to thumb its nose at laid-off workers.” In reality, Citi is responsible to more than just the workers they laid off; they’re responsible to their stockholders, remaining employees, and maybe even their customers. If the naming-rights deal is a bad one, then the executives are putting more than their noses at risk.
Related: BBTF discussion of the article.