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Jewish World Review April 15, 2002 / 4 Iyar, 5762

Art Buchwald

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Consumer Reports

The Sign That Couldn't | I knew things were not going well for Enron when the city fathers took down the "Enron Field" sign hanging over the baseball park in Houston. This was a terrible blow for Enron because the sign could be seen all over town.

Here's what happened. Enron, when it was fat and rich, bought the rights to call the stadium where the Houston Astros play "Enron Field". It cost the company a bundle for a long time lease.

The reason they did it is that Ken Lay and President Bush love baseball and they liked to go out on opening day and have their pictures taken.

Now this is the part that gets interesting. Enron went bankrupt and all the creditors wanted anything that Enron still owned. The Enron bankruptcy trust decided the Enron sign was still worth a lot of money. They were right.

The owners of the Houston Astros were afraid that every time people drove by the stadium and saw the sign they would think the Astros were losers. They even had bumper stickers that said, "Honk If You Lost Your Shirt to Enron."

Stay with me, particularly if you are a baseball fan. When times were good, Enron was very happy to be associated with the Astros and they paid a lot of money for the privilege. But when the company went bankrupt, the sign did nothing for the Astros. This is where the Enron bankruptcy trust comes in. It played hardball to allow the Astros take the sign down. The team owners were willing to pay Enron for the sign removal, and it was said to cost them millions.

Not only was the public flummoxed by the Enron disaster, but the Astros players were as well. Many are so highly paid they have business managers who invest for them. When the sign went up, one of the hottest stocks was Enron and the players looked good. When Enron went under, the players demanded the sign come down or they would strike.

What is interesting is that all the baseball parks, football fields and basketball courts in the country are now selling their naming rights to private companies. It's added great income to the teams. The only problem is that any company can go broke or be indicted for shredding documents. Then the teams have to give back the money they received for a long-term lease.

At the moment the Astros are looking for another customer. For example, they have decided not to make a deal with Arthur Andersen because they feel Arthur is no longer associated with winners.

The Astros owners had to buy back the naming rights to tear down the Enron sign and people have stopped honking their horns as they drive past the stadium. The bankruptcy judge has yet to rule whether Ken Lay will keep his season baseball tickets or let the trust sell them to scalpers.

Every year newspapers select someone or a company for the Chutzpah Award. He or it has to have done something so outrageous that no one can believe it. So far, Enron wins the prize. A few weeks ago Enron asked the bankruptcy judge to give its executives millions of dollars for bonuses and salary increases.

I did not make this up.

Comment on JWR contributor Art Buchwald's column by clicking here.

04/11/02: It's Cherry Blossom Time
04/08/02: The Young Audience
03/31/02: Safe Deposit for Sale
03/26/02: Au Revoir to Soft Money
03/21/02: Andersen Defense Fund?
03/19/02: Celebrity kickers
03/15/02: A Mickey Mouse solution
03/13/02: Shadow government in the sandbox
03/07/02: The Way It Is
03/05/02: Not telling the truth
03/01/02: Book flogging
02/27/02: The players are mad

© 2002, TMS