Jeff Jardine

Tickling Steinway keys touches a major chord

I must admit, it's a bit tempting:

The idea of Van Cliburn making a rare appearance at the Gallo Center for the Arts, waltzing into the piano room and seeing my name on a plaque as the sponsor ("Godfather" has a better ring) of a Steinway.

There's just one slightly major problem: They want $75,000 for the rights to name the piano.

I'm tapped, with Christmas approaching and property taxes due next month. This gets to be an expensive time of year, every year. So there isn't much wiggle room for piano sponsorships. And really, if I had $75,000 to spend on a Steinway, I'd keep it at my place. Nor is there an extra $50,000 in the checkbook to sponsor a loading dock, $75,000 for an elevator, $250,000 for the orchestra green room or a cool $1 million to plaster my name on the outdoor plaza.

Maybe next year, if the economy turns.

Throughout the planning and construction of the Gallo Center, there was much speculation that it would benefit only the rich and the corporations, leaving us little folks out of the picture.

Who among us could possibly compete with the Gallos for the building's naming rights? Or the family foundations that sponsored the Mary Stuart Rogers and Foster Family theaters?

From the time county supervisors voted to help fund the center several years ago, there was little doubt the building would sell naming rights to raise additional money. It's completely understandable and commonplace.

Without these contributions, the center wouldn't exist.

Naming rights have become part of the American fabric. Companies pay gobs of money to attach their logos to anything that generates exposure. Just the name recognition companies get from college football games on or around New Year's Day is worth the money: the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the FedEx Orange Bowl, the Nokia Sugar Bowl, the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl.

Same goes for stadium and arena naming rights on a year-round basis, though the names frequently change as companies merge or, in the case of Enron, declare bankruptcy.

The Giants play at Pac Bell-turned-SBC-turned-AT&T Ballpark. The 49ers call Candlestick-turned-3Com- turned-Monster Park home. The A's and Raiders play in the McAfee Coliseum, which for a few years was called the Networks Associates Coliseum. The Golden State Warriors play in the Oracle Arena next door, the Kings at Arco Arena and the Sharks at the HP Pavilion.

And 90 miles up the road in Davis, another winemaker, Robert Mondavi, sponsored the performing arts center there.

Churches figured this out long before pro sports facilities. Families pay for the stained glass windows, with their names inset at the bottom. You'll see names etched onto plaques to show who helped pay for the pews, sound systems, organs, chalices, foundations, gardens, halls, bookcases -- you name it.

I once attended a church that had a plaque listing several parishioners who contributed to buy a relatively inexpensive Korean-made television for the parish hall. By then, the TV was so old that it wasn't even cable-ready and I doubt if it still worked. But it had been consecrated by a bishop and was considered sacred property of the church. In theory, they'd have had to perform some kind of ritual to decommission it. It's probably still sitting in the basement to this very day. But at least we knew who paid for it.

So it was a foregone conclusion something as majestic and costly as Modesto's $40 million Gallo Center would sell naming rights, and it wouldn't be limited to the biggest-ticket items such as the building itself and the two theaters.

If they sold every sponsorship listed in reporter Adam Ashton's story in Wednesday's Bee, they would generate $3.48 million of additional revenue. I'm all for it. But why stop there?

Why not give others the opportunity to participate, too.

I'd pay $50 to have my name on the paper toilet seat cover dispenser. I'm sure others would do the same. Or maybe $25 to sponsor the liquid hand soap.

What would you pay to sponsor an entire toilet? There are 36 in the women's restrooms and 32 fixtures (toilets and urinals combined) in the men's. At, say, $100 apiece, it would add $6,800 to the kitty. And the commode in the headliner's dressing room has got to be worth at least $500.

Tony Bennett sat here, courtesy of (your name goes here).

What's a handrail worth to you? $75?

Some other naming possibilities:

$5 for your name etched on a wine glass

$20 for a door handle, anywhere in the building

$300 for a dressing room makeup stool

$5 for a light bulb

$15 for a computer in the ticket office

$25 for the vacuum cleaner

The bottom line is paying the bills and keeping the place afloat. By selling rights to the little stuff, they could raise maybe an extra $50,000 or so.

Until then, I can't afford $75,000 to be Godfather to a Steinway. At those prices, I couldn't even sponsor the bench.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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