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Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2000 / 8 Elul 5760

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports


River banks? How to turn water into an endless cash flow


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- KANSAS CITY | Crossing a bridge over the Missouri River the other afternoon, I looked down at the water and thought:

Boy. Talk about a potential revenue stream.

From time to time we all bemoan the fact that every aspect of American life seems open to corporate sponsorship -- from athletic arenas, to rock band tours, to football bowl games -- but one of the most obvious areas of sponsorship has been overlooked:

Our great rivers.

They're just sitting there (well . . . flowing there). They're not going anywhere (well . . . they are, technically, going somewhere -- upstream, downstream -- but they're not going away). And they're not making money for anyone (except the owners of those stupid riverboat casinos that represent America's absolute surrender to everything the nation once claimed not to believe in).

Might as well sell them -- sell the naming rights. Let the rivers earn their keep.

There are so few areas of American life that have not yet been sold to corporations. For a while there, I thought that there was an obvious set of entities ripe for corporate sponsorship, and I was surprised that no one had thought of it: airports.

America's big-city airports still carry names like "O'Hare" and "LaGuardia" and "Los Angeles International" and "DFW." They are some of the busiest and most high-profile buildings in the world -- why would a corporation not jump at the chance to put its name on an airport?

But the answer is clear: Corporations want their names associated with things that make people happy, or at least that people think of in terms of pleasant experiences. Airports often make people's stomachs churn, make people angry, make people frustrated; people need airports, but often do not love them. No big company would risk putting its name on an airport. United Airlines might have thought it was a good business decision to sponsor the sports arena on West Madison Street in Chicago, but most corporations would never go near an airport sponsorship. Do you think the biggest soft-drink manufacturer in the world would want to buy the rights to O'Hare, and turn it into Coca-Cola International Airport?

No possibility -- Coke wants its customers to like it.

But rivers. . . .

Now, there is an area ready for big-money sponsorship. Take the Missouri River -- it's a nice river, it's a relatively pretty river, it's a river with a lot of history. But if Coca-Cola were to sponsor it. . . .

What a great name. The Coca-Cola River. It would be a perfect purchase for Coke -- the very sound of it conjures up a mental picture of a sweet river of Coke. If anything, it would make the Missouri River sound even more big-time than it already is. A river so grand that Coke has made it its own. People would plan their vacations just to see it. Even when the news was bad -- the occasional flood -- the words would sound delicious: "The Coca-Cola River overflowed its banks today. . . . "

And the beautiful part of this is that there are so many great American rivers there for the selling. The Mississippi? Make it the Chevrolet River, and there will be huge money for every state which it runs through. The Rio Grande? Nice enough moniker, but is it really any more memorable than the Microsoft River? The Platte River? As flat as Nebraska itself -- make it a profit center, turn it into the McDonald's River. (Except it's probably too small for McDonald's to bother with -- McDonald's would most likely hold out for naming rights to the Atlantic Ocean.)

The Ohio River is mighty and historic -- but for the cash, it might as well be turned into the Prudential River. Same with the Colorado River -- lots of fond memories in its past, but this is the future: Make it the Coors River (or the River of Coors . . . better cadence). The Red River? Oklahoma and Texas will survive with a slight change -- turn it into the Nissan River.

The Susquehanna is swell, but would it be any less swell as the Pizza Hut River? The Allegheny has a lovely sound to it, especially to Pennsylvanians, but it wouldn't take them long to become adjusted to the Reebok River. The Snake River in Wyoming? It's all right, but as the Budweiser River it would make your mouth water. This thing could even go international -- why not make the Amazon River the Amazon.com River?

Where were we? Oh . . . right. Crossing the Missouri River here in Kansas City. There's money down there.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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