South Side Sox and social media didn’t exist -- at least in the ubiquitous form we know both today — back in 2003, when the White Sox renamed Comiskey Park to U.S. Cellular Field, so we can’t really gauge how that rollout compared to Wednesday's announcement of Guaranteed Rate Field.
My guess is that the backlash would’ve been similar, because the dropoffs were similar. Guaranteed Rate Field is well worse than U.S. Cellular Field, but U.S. Cellular Field was well worse than Comiskey Park. Plus, we had to deal with the sting of selling out after generations had been linked by a sturdy, time-tested baseball name. Now, a corporate label is a given — the only question is which one.
Of course, because this season is hellbent on making everybody miserable, the answer to said question registers on the shadier end of the spectrum. I guess it’s good for Guaranteed Rate’s profile, because until Wednesday, I wasn’t aware it was a thing. The mortgage industry is a low-satisfaction industry on both sides of the deal, so there’s plenty of people around to badmouth buying from them or selling for them. If you needed more than anecdotes, the first page of Google results turns up a $25 million judgment against the company in a fraud scheme.
What else? Well, their founder is a Cub fan who had to patronize his way around the question of Sox allegiance by talking about attending the 2005 games, and he tucked his jersey into jeans before airmailing the first pitch.
And more than anything, the company’s logo is an arrow pointing downward.
I started to feel bad for Brooks Boyer, whose tough job became tougher when he had to say lines like this:
Marketing boss Brooks Boyer says #WhiteSox, Guaranteed Rate "share same DNA"— Scot Gregor (@scotgregor) August 24, 2016
"For our branding partnership," Boyer said. "We hope that over the next 13 years that we’re partners in this ballpark that that arrow becomes something that symbolizes greatness in your mortgage experience and hopefully we’ll have the ERAs that follows that arrow and we’ll have the winning percentage that goes the other way."
Until you realize that he probably had a lot of say in the matter. Jon Greenberg added this in the column linked above:
Boyer said they had reached out to a small group of local businesses about a potential naming rights deal and found a willing partner in the mortgage company. (In a perfectly Chicago moment, Boyer said his brother-in-law worked for Guaranteed Rate.)
To counter jargon with jargon, the optics on this deal are terrible, especially with the timing. The down arrow in Guaranteed Rate’s logo summarizes the trajectory of the product all too tidily, and with Kenny Williams not wanting to ruin a charity outing and Rick Hahn being accused of ducking the media, that awfully perfect logo is the only direction Sox fans have observed this month. I wondered — with a straight face — whether Boyer and friends waited a James Shields start to unveil it, hoping the stench of one would mask the one emanating from the other.
All this being said, White Sox fans accepted the U.S. Cellular name enough to be upset about a second corporate name, even though they’re somewhat similar in lack of prestige (Guaranteed Rate owns the advantage of actually still existing in Chicago). They certainly both pale in comparison to the United Center, which, while no Chicago Stadium, actually sounds like a legit arena name even if the airline never existed.
If Sox fans can stomach one name that was as soulless as it was inelegant, a second can be done, too. Unfortunately for the franchise, it only has one of the three biggest factors in hand, which is...
No. 1: Time. "Guaranteed Rate Field" is a ghastly stadium name, and it’ll likely be worthy of scorn and derision, especially if millennials can ever afford to buy homes:
But again, so was "U.S. Cellular Field," especially after it became a market loser and the whole package became even less recognizable to tourists. Sox fans got past it, because regardless of the park’s name, the tailgating is easy and the churros taste the same.
Then again, U.S. Cellular benefited from breaks that aren’t immediately apparent to Guaranteed Rate.
No. 2: Shorthand. "The Cell" was a little too on-the-point at the start, especially since the Ligue family made its mark at the end of the Comiskey Park era. After the on-field violence became a memory instead of a trend, "The Cell" turned into a somewhat affectionate shorthand. Self-deprecation was always at the heart of it, but that’s also reflective of the whole White Sox fan experience.
There is no convenient abbreviation of "Guaranteed Rate." The Rate, the Grate, the G-Spot ... meh. Subprime Park and The Big Short are my favorites, but they take effort to generate. There’s a vacuum, and as the old saying goes, Harambe references abhor a vacuum.
No. 3: Transformation. In my mind, "New Comiskey" is the sterile gray-and-blue stadium with the blank backdrop, outfield moat and endless nosebleed seats. "U.S. Cellular Field" is the far more attractive, intimate park with green seats, classic facade, and some welcome variation in the landscape.
The phone company paid for that association, as the money from the naming rights helped fund the renovations. It also doesn’t hurt that the White Sox won their only World Series over the last 99 years behind U.S. Cellular branding.
Perhaps if the Sox overhauled the video boards after Guaranteed Rate took over, differentiation and acceptance might be more natural. As it stands, I can’t think of any aesthetic improvement that would transform the stadium into an unrecognizable entity.
That leaves the on-field product as the only recourse. U.S. Cellular Field stopped being the butt of jokes when it hosted a World Series, and Quicken Loans Arena didn’t diminish what LeBron James and the Cavs brought to Cleveland.
This should be more comforting than it is foreboding, but it all comes back to that damnable downward arrow and everything it unintentionally represents. Until the White Sox can turn it around, the name change just goes into the pile of things the franchise can’t do right. Boyer said the White Sox are working on designing around the logo, but maybe they should resign themselves to it until it stops reflecting the on-field product. "Remove the arrow" feels like a goal everybody can work toward, and that's the kind of communal effort required to get past this name.