The Oakland Coliseum deserves a better name than RingCentral

It may be a “concrete toilet,” but it’s our concrete toilet

I have a new thing up today in the East Bay Times. You can read the article below, and here’s a tweet to share :)

In December, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority announced it had once again sold the naming rights to what is now Oakland’s only home for professional sports. The new, reliably lame corporate moniker? RingCentral Coliseum.

On the one hand, this isn’t really news, because it isn’t consequential; nobody who loves the Coliseum will ever call it “RingCentral Coliseum,” just as we never called it “O.Co Coliseum” or the uniquely affectless “Network Associates Coliseum.”

The name change does lend occasion, however, to reconsider what the Coliseum deserves to be called. Much can be said about a place by its name. Direct and regal, “Yankee Stadium” invokes the ghosts of pinstripes past; phonetically sharp, “Fenway Park” reflects the asymmetry of the Boston neighborhood in which it was built. As the site of much history, and as both a landmark and an emblem of the East Bay — a defining fixture of the region’s topography as well as its identity — the Coliseum deserves a name that achieves something similar.

Of course, some would argue the name the Coliseum really deserves is “Worst stadium in sports.” On its face, as the New York Times’ Kevin Draper once wrote, the Coliseum can seem “A bland, charmless concrete monstrosity.” Deadspin, citing the Coliseum’s tendency to flood with raw sewage, poetically called it “A concrete toilet.” The Raiders’ departure and Oakland A’s owners’ desperate efforts to leave the Coliseum, meanwhile, corroborate the idea that it is, above all, a thing to abandon.

However, those of us who grew up with the Coliseum know that none of that matters. To us who relish the briny chill of the upper deck on a night game in June, or who can still hear the howling ululations of the Black Hole on a Sunday in autumn, the Coliseum is much more than what its critics suggest.

For one thing, despite its flaws, the Coliseum has a lot going for it. Its expansive foul territory allows for impressive defensive plays. Plunked between a freeway, a train station, an airport and BART, it’s imminently accessible.

And its absence of pomp makes it agreeably cheap: Any night just about all summer long, you and a buddy can snag two not-so-horrible seats, hot dogs, beer and even tickets for the BART ride home for less than what it costs to get dinner most places in San Francisco.

The Coliseum is the rare venue welcoming to both families and day drinkers. New York Times reporter Jack Nicas put it nicely when he wrote, “If Marlins Park is the flashy new nightclub, and Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are the historic pubs, the Coliseum is baseball’s last dive bar.”

Perhaps more than anything else, though, the Coliseum is integral to this place we call home. This is evident in the Coliseum’s design. Built into the landscape — the playing field sits below sea-level — the Coliseum’s glowering concrete facade reflects Oakland’s grit. Mount Davis epitomizes its mistakes. The sounds of Mac Dre and E-40 that thunder from speakers in the parking lot before games tout Oakland’s incorrigible funk.

The pandemic might have me romanticizing the Coliseum. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. But perhaps distance also awakens you to what’s most true about a place. And what’s most true about the Coliseum is that its history is our history, its quirks our quirks. And it deserves a name that reflects all that — rather than the unimaginative label of some random corporation.