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New ballpark name criticized for ties to gambling, city suburb

by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: April 5, 2012 at 10:36 am •  Published: April 5, 2012

Oklahoma City leaders, including Mayor Mick Cornett, are urging the Oklahoma City RedHawks and the Chickasaw Nation to reconsider their decision to rename the Bricktown ballpark after the town of Newcastle and the tribe's casino, Newcastle Casino.

While team and casino representatives hailed the agreement for the new name — Newcastle Field at Bricktown — as a new way to promote both venues, critics saw the deal as disrespectful to Oklahoma City and a move to groom young people into the next generation of compulsive gamblers.

“It's a terrible choice,” Councilman Pete White said. “As a baseball fan, I know two of the greatest players ever — Pete Rose and ‘Shoeless' Joe Jackson — are not in the Hall of Fame because of gambling connections. So to name a ballpark after a gambling operation flies in the face of the strong stance baseball took against gambling.”

Not a single city official or representative of Bricktown was on hand as team general manager, Michael Byrnes, and the casino's marketing manager, Jennifer Cross, unveiled the new name and logo.

Byrnes explained the ballpark's previous naming rights agreement with AT&T expired as the RedHawks owner, Los Angeles-based Mandalay Sports, was buying the team from previous owners Bob Funk and Scott Pruitt. Byrnes noted the relationship with Newcastle Casino began two years ago with advertising inside the ballpark.

“The goal of this expanded partnership is to continue raising awareness of both organizations' entertainment value among baseball fans and casino patrons alike,” Cross said. “Through innovative promotions at both locations, as well as through social media channels, the possibilities to this partnership are endless. Our hope is to continue the mutually beneficial partnership started less than two years ago and increase traffic to both destinations.”

Readers upset by new name

News of the renaming was not received well by readers of The Oklahoman on Wednesday, on social media or among city leaders.

Some, like Cornett and Ward 2 Councilwoman Meg Salyer, were unhappy with naming a $34 million ballpark built and paid for by Oklahoma City taxpayers after Newcastle, a suburb of 7,700 people.

“It's disappointing to see a ballpark built with taxpayer dollars from Oklahoma City carry the name of another town,” Cornett said. “I've talked to them and explained my position.”

Both Cornett and Salyer noted they have no control over the naming rights, which was sold for $100,000 as part of a lease agreement with the previous team's ownership when the ballpark was built in 1997. At the time, then Mayor Ron Norick persuaded city council members to approve the lease after just three days of review. No member of the current council was in office at the time.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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