OFF BEAT WASN'T surprised to hear that Minnesota's fledgling NHL franchise, the Wild, had sold the naming rights to its new taxpayer-subsidized arena in downtown St. Paul for an estimated $80 million. Still, we nearly choked on our Cheerios when the new appellation was announced--Xcel Energy Center seems more suited to a nuclear power plant than a skating rink with bleachers. Of course, Xcel Energy Inc.--the mega-utility that will be born from the expected merger of Northern States Power and Denver-based New Century Energies--is paying good money for the privilege of inflicting its brand on the sporting public. The Wild hope fans will come to refer to the new barn as "The X." Not if the folks at Commercial Alert can help it, however. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, founded by Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, recently embarked on a campaign to encourage sportswriters not to use corporate monikers in their stories. "I urge you to write as a keeper of a magic that draws us to sports rather than as--I must say this--a corporate shill," Commercial Alert director Gary Ruskin wrote in a letter he sent to the 50 biggest dailies in the nation. "There is no law that says you have to call a sports venue what a big corporation wants you to call it." To date, Ruskin tells Off Beat, he has received no formal responses to his plea, aside from a brief note of encouragement from New York Times columnist George Vescey. Meanwhile, Off Beat couldn't find anyone at the two local dailies who'd heard of the crusade. Star Tribune ombudsman Lou Gelfand says his paper has a long-standing policy of referring to sports palaces by their official (read: corporate) names. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor of the Pioneer Press sports section, strikes a wearier note. "For the most part, sports editors have been against using these paid-for names," he observes. "But we've kind of thrown up our hands and given up. With more and more of the new buildings taking on corporate names, it becomes more and more difficult to deal with." Still, Ruskin isn't about to give up. He suggests that writers employ the traditional names of venues that have been rechristened, and, in the case of new edifices, coin their own monikers. "We encourage people to be creative and come up with a good nickname, whatever they think is appropriate," he says. For the time being, Off Beat is straddling the fence on this issue: We're hereby soliciting suggestions for nicknames for the Wild's home. But we'd also like to welcome interested parties--including Xcel--to submit bids for the privilege of purchasing naming rights to this column.
Let the Bidding Begin
TWIN CITIES RESIDENTS will never go wanting for fish wrapper. No local zoning dispute is too petty, no neighborhood-association meeting too dull to find its way into newsprint somewhere. That said, Off Beat notes that one of the standouts on the local-rag landscape may change hands soon. Tony Schmitz, who founded the Frogtown Times five years ago and continues to run it as a virtually one-man operation, is looking to unload the 7,800-circulation monthly. Schmitz--who, for about two years in the early 1980s, edited the fish wrapper you're now reading--is also a published fiction writer. Darkest Desire: The Wolf's Own Tale, Schmitz's twisted retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood" from the wolf's perspective, caught the attention of Hollywood gatekeepers, and he was able to sell the film rights. Now he hopes to parlay the windfall into a full-time literary career. "Not that it's a ton of money," Schmitz hedges, declining to share the amount, "but it's kind of a crack in the door." Schmitz hasn't hung a specific price tag on the Times, saying he'd prefer to negotiate with prospective buyers. And until the right person turns up, he'll continue to churn out the paper. "I wouldn't just shut it down," he promises.