The Spoken Chesapeake

Image of Chesapeake Energy Arena from Wikipedia

I wonder how many times the word “Chesapeake” will be spoken on national television as the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Los Angeles Lakers Monday in round two of the NBA playoffs.

Of course, the Thunder host the Lakers in the Chesapeake Energy Arena Monday so it’s highly likely the company name will be repeated often with or without accompanying shots of the building’s sign. It’s a slam dunk.

But is this good news? Does it point out an inherent problem for arena naming rights?

Chesapeake Energy Corp and its chief executive officer Aubrey McClendon, a part owner of the Thunder, has been the focus of much negative media attention—even network television news—in recent days, which began with special reports from Reuters. Oil and gas industry analysts are questioning Chesapeake’s business practices and McClendon’s own financial dealings.

The company and McClendon are under intense scrutiny right now. A U.S. Senator has even called for a Department of Justice investigation. The company is currently under investigation by the Security and Exchange Commission. A major shareholder group has been critical of Chesapeake’s management. McClendon has been removed as chairman of the company’s board of directors, though he continues to serve as CEO.

I won’t rehash the company’s and McClendon’s specific misfortunes (I’ve written about them here and here), but it’s probably a safe bet the negative stories will keep coming.

Some will undoubtedly say it might be an unfair comparison but Chesapeake Energy Corp. is beginning to carry the same negative connotation as the names BP and Enron.

So the fact that Oklahoma’s City major arena carries the Chesapeake name is not good for the city’s image right now as the Thunder try to get into the conference finals. That could change, but unless natural gas prices rise astronomically and quickly the company will surely face continued interest from reporters and government agencies. All of this shows why selling arena naming rights to big corporations can be a risky business.

Oklahoma City’s national image has improved greatly over the last decade or so, and it’s a shame that over the next week or even longer a national television audience will be reminded of how tentative, perhaps, that improvement has been as they hear “Chesapeake” over and over. Any major disruption to Chesapeake—downsizing, layoffs, a sale requiring relocation—would devastate Oklahoma City.

Sure, the Thunder and Oklahoma City’s taxpayer-funded arena will survive, but most of us could suffer in this area if Chesapeake can’t make it.