1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre: WORST. NAME. EVER.
Live Nation's announcement Thursday that they were renaming the Ford Amphitheatre the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre is the ugliest naming rights agreement of the past 20 years.
It's worse than the PapaJohns.com Bowl. It's worse than the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. It's worse than University of Phoenix Stadium. It's worse than the Comfort Dental Amphitheatre. It's even worse than having something called the "St. Pete Times Forum" in the middle of downtown Tampa.
By now, everyone has to understand that naming rights and sponsorship deals are an immutable aspect of society. Corporate sponsorships make possible many, many things that consumers take for granted.
And I understand why this is happening in Tampa. Ford's naming rights deal is over, and the Amphitheatre needed a new title sponsor. The Florida-based lawyer referral service 1-800-ASK-GARY was willing to pony up the cash, and for good reason -- the next time Toby Keith or Kings of Leon or Aerosmith launches a summer tour that inclues Tampa, the announcement will include the phone number "1-800-ASK-GARY." As Marc Abend, Live Nation's senior vice president of venue sales put it, "Nontraditional groups are looking for new ways to get their name out there." This certainly qualifies.
But ... but ... Aesthetically. Thematically. Visually.
The Ford Amphitheatre was a great name. I liked saying "FordAmp." I liked seeing Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and The Cure at the FordAmp. Ford has seen better days, so it's no surprise they're pulling out of the naming-rights game in Tampa. Ford had the rights for six years. The 1-800-ASK-GARY deal is reportedly three years, but Abend said it could go longer.
Still ... we could have hoped for the Outback Amphitheatre, the Hard Rock Amphitheatre, the Home Shopping Network Amphitheatre ... ANYTHING but something that reads like it was pulled verbatim from a bus ad.
Live Nation has done far more good than harm for Tampa Bay music fans, so it's hard to rip them for this. 1-800-ASK-GARY just scored more free publicity than they could ever want, so more power to them. And, look, a deal like this was bound to happen somewhere, someday in America. Is anyone surprised it happened in Florida?
But as a music fan, I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable saying the phrase "1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre." As a music writer, it'll be a while before I feel comfortable typing it.
Until then: Who's ready for "An Evening with Sting Performing his most celebrated songs featuring the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra Presented by Xerox" at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre?
We welcome your alternate Amphitheatre name suggestions in the comments.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*