So long, U.S. Cellular Field. From today through 2029, the White Sox will be plying their trade at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The much-mocked transition between corporate naming-rights holders officially cements itself today, but the situation remains the same as when we left it. The name is inelegant at best, mortgages aren’t going to get #millennials excited, and the down arrow in the logo prompted new rounds of derisive laughter and scorn when the official stadium logo was released.
Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli defended the logo, and while home plate modification makes a lot of sense and the logo’s design seems kinda temporary in nature, he held his ground:
"I know that there are fans that don't like the fact that there's a downward red arrow on the ballpark, but I have a hard time understanding the relevance between our mortgage company's main logo and how that negatively impacts the team or the fans," said Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli. "The whole reason we're doing this is to build national brand recognition."
Ciardelli is playing dumb, of course. I’m guessing you’re not in a position to make a $25.1 million marketing deal if you can’t comprehend why fans of a team with four straight losing seasons would take a down arrow as kick while they’re down. Yet that last sentence is ultimately all the justification he needs. He’s paying the team to advertise his company around the stadium, and it’s not like he’s under any extra pressure to change the logo just because the deal was announced.
The whole thing’s been kind of a bummer, especially since there isn’t the new windfall of cash that would more easily justify a new kind of corporate bad. They’re basically replacing the deal wth U.S. Cellular, except the company in question actually serves the Chicagoland area.
According to Crain’s Danny Ecker, though, Guaranteed Rate is also sponsoring the club area behind home plate. Formerly the Gold Coast Club and Jim Beam Club, it had gone unsponsored for the last three seasons. Now it’s the Guaranteed Rate Club, or something along those lines, in a separate deal that ultimately boosts the value of the partnership.
Guaranteed Rate's appetite to buy assets like the Home Plate Club was an important reason that the Sox signed them as their stadium naming rights partner. While the company is only paying the same annual rights fee as U.S. Cellular paid (about $2 million per year), the separate sponsorship agreement allowed the team to seize more revenue than it did from the telecommunications company.
If I were the Sox, I might’ve touted this more from the onset, because up until this point it seems like the franchise has been taking the L on the switch, and not the Red or Green lines. Then again, the home plate club name doesn’t have many real-world ramifications for Sox fans, and that alone isn’t going to net Yoenis Cespedes.
But the name doesn’t make a huge difference, either. If I had to pick between “U.S. Cellular Field” and “Guaranteed Rate Field” without prior familiarity with the former, I don’t know which one would sound more unwieldy. U.S. Cellular Field just had the benefit of the White Sox winning two World Series games inside it.
The bigger, more pressing question remains what happens afterward. As the Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal and others noticed in the wake of the first announcement, the new naming rights deal lays some track for new ballpark negotiations toward the end of the 2020s. The contract with the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which currently forces IFSA to pay for ballpark features that are not on par with three-quarters of the rest of the league, was amended to take IFSA off the hook for major renovations over the last three years, which would be after the 2026 season. It’s in the Sox’ interest to use those three years to set sights elsewhere.
(And I mean elsewhere in Chicago, not the boogeyman of the Sox going to another city. The Rays and Athletics can’t escape their stadiums despite their best efforts. The fourth-place Sox outdrew the pennant-winning Indians this year. There is not an abundance of healthy MLB-ready markets ready to pounce on vulnerable teams, and another team would move into Chicago, anyway.)
The sports facility at 35th and Shields will only be 38 years old at the time, which seems ridiculously short given the lifespans of the last two major Chicago ballparks. However, stadium churn has already struck other cities with parks built more recently. Thirty-eight years is twice as long as Turner Field hosted the Atlanta Braves, who will be moving to a new taxpayer-funded ballpark in Cobb County thanks to some shady dealings. The Texas Rangers and Arlington officials are trying to power through a new deal to replace the 22-year-old Globe Life Park, although the opposition has a better opportunity to stop it.
It’s premature to declare the end of the era of publicly financed stadiums, but these two ballparks — and other stadium efforts in Minnesota and Milwaukee — are showing that taxpayers are wiser to the pitfalls of the arrangements, and a second sweetheart deal with the state might be much harder to find.
Before the Guaranteed Rate announcement, I had planned to write an offseason post about Sox Park, wondering if it would get better with age. While the retro stadium phase made New Comiskey’s modernity look archaic within a decade, the subsequent renovations solved a lot of its biggest problems. It’s now a pleasurably straightforward and comfortable place to watch a baseball game, especially from the lower bowl. For instance, one aspect of the stadium that looks remarkable compared to newer parks: You can walk around the entire concourse without losing sight of the field. In stadiums like Citi Field and Nationals Park, home-plate clubs obstruct 10 sections’ worth of views
We may never know the answer to that question, although a lot can change in 10 years. The city-suburban migration pattern could be hard to peg, as could traffic patterns if self-driving cars start to take hold. Perhaps Bridgeport and Armour Square become something closer to destination neighborhoods for those priced out of the North Side. I wouldn’t bet on any one of those changing the game, but there’s bound to be a wrinkle somewhere. Once everybody starts getting used to Guaranteed Rate Field, there’s still plenty of the unfamiliar to go around.