Take me out to the (taxpayer-subsidized) ballgame

Some of the banks getting funds from the Wall Street bailout are also spending millions to put their names and logos on sports stadiums and jerseys


Mike Madden
November 25, 2008 1:34AM (UTC)

When you sit down to do your taxes next April, don't forget to check the baseball standings to see how one of the investments you're contributing to is performing: the New York Mets.

Now that the federal government is sending $20 billion to Citigroup (on top of the $25 billion the bank got in the Wall Street bailout earlier this fall), you and every other taxpayer may feel a special attachment to the Mets, who will be playing next year at a new stadium named Citi Field. Citi paid $400 million (admittedly, spread out over 20 years) for the right to plaster its name and logo on the new ballpark in Queens. The Mets say the bank isn't planning to back out. The federal government will own a $7 billion dividend-paying stake in the bank in exchange for bailing it out, so root for the Mets -- the more they're on national TV, the more buzz Citi Field and all its bank-extolling glory will get (and, in theory, the better the taxpayers' investment will do, though there's not much evidence these deals actually do anything besides enrich sports teams).

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Citi isn't the only financial institution that's staying involved in sports despite the hard times. Taxyapers for Common Sense has compiled a handy list of some of the bigger bailout beneficiaries who are also invested in slightly more frivolous pursuits. There's AIG, the insurance behemoth (and recipient of $150 billion of U.S. tax money) who sponsors the jerseys for English soccer powerhouse Manchester United. Bank of America owns the naming rights to the stadium the Carolina Panthers play in; M&T Bank logos adorn the Baltimore Ravens' home field. A handful of banks also sponsor college bowl games, incluing GMAC -- the financing arm of General Motors, which is basically asking the feds to give it money any way they can.

"Under the financial bailout, taxpayers are becoming silent investors in numerous banks and other financial institutions," the budget watchdog group writes in noting the sports connections. "While Uncle Sam shouldn't wield a heavy hand in business decisions, a savvy investor would review these investments to see if they make sense in this new climate."

It would certainly be more entertaining if, instead of reviewing the investments, the government just took over the naming rights. Stadiums could be named for U.S. Treasury agencies instead of banks -- picture the Panthers playing at "Office of Foreign Assets Control Field" and the Ravens at "Internal Revenue Service Stadium." And as for the Mets, they seem like they'd be right at home at "Bureau of the Public Debt Ballpark."

What do you think -- should banks that get bailout money find a way to drop these naming agreements? (As an added benefit, stadium names could finally return to the good old days before corporate sponsorship, with classics like Wrigley Field. Oh, wait. Never mind.)


Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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