Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Nationalization of Our National Pastime

How is it that one of baseball's best new rivalries could soon mirror one of America's oldest? The credit crisis, that's how. As if this global disaster hasn't caused enough pain, reaching across geographical boundaries, socioeconomic boundaries and pretty much every other boundary one could contemplate, it has finally reached baseball.

I am talking specifically about the rivalry between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. For those still unsure where I'm going with this, just remember what site your are that lives in the world of finance and real estate. Citizens Bank paid an extraordinary sum of money to the Phillies' brass back in late 2003 for the naming rights to the then new stadium now known as Citizens Bank Park. Similarly, last year, Citigroup paid an even more exorbitant sum to Mets owner (and real estate developer) Fred Wilpon for the naming rights to the newly constructed home of the Metropolitans, dubbing it Citi Field. Something to the tune of $400 million dollars.

But where, you ask, would troubled Citigroup get the money for that, given the fiscal turmoil they find themselves in, especially amid rumors that they, even post bailout, may still be financially insolvent? Check your wallet. Feel lighter?

As recently reported in the media, the U.S. Government, (see: taxpayers) could increase their ownership stake in the company to 40% in the form of common stock. Of course, knowing that Citigroup, even under recent pressure to relinquish their naming rights to cut costs, is forging ahead anyways, has many citizens up in arms. And rightly so. We just witnessed huge public backlash towards many of the bailed out firms continuing to spend lavishly on things like corporate jets and trips to Las Vegas. The difference here is that those companies finally caved in to the public pressure. Citigroup? Not so much. Perhaps they wanted to remain affiliated with the team current World Series MVP Cole Hamels referred to publicly as "choke artists." After all, Citigroup, a New York based firm, has been the commercial banking equivalent of the term. They just choked away your savings account for two consecutive years rather than two 162 game seasons.

90 miles down the turnpike, Citizens Bank isn't faring much better. In fact, their parent, the Royal Bank of Scotland, is doing even worse. In a story that emerged last week, RBS posted the worst loss ever for a British corporation. They lost $41B in 2008. $41 BILLION! As a result, the Edinburgh-based bank has struck a deal in which the government of the United Kingdom will raise its stake in RBS from 58 to 70 percent.

So let's see here. While the fan bases of these two respective teams will remain in New York and Philadelphia, the actual names of the stadiums in which they play will be rooted more in a rivalry throwback to 1776. US citizens versus British citizens. The team colors are even historically accurate. The Mets are wearing revolutionary blue, and the Phils sport the British-based redcoats. What, I ask you, is more American than that?

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