In recent months, the Jets and the Giants, New York's entries in the National Football League, have been ironing out final details of their impending departure from Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands, where the Jets have long been a tenant, for a swank new venue across the way.
This time, the Jets, as co-owners, will be on an equal footing with their former landlords, so the new edifice won't bear the exclusive imprimatur of either, a handy opportunity to sell off naming rights to a corporate sponsor willing to part with megabucks for the privilege.
Enter Allianz. The giant German insurer, which already sponsors a soccer field in Europe, thought it'd be a swell idea to do the same on this side of the Atlantic, where it transacts a fair amount of business. Initially, the Giants and the Jets thought it was a swell idea too.
In fact, it was from the get-go a horrendous idea, one which took shape in the worst possible place this side of Tel Aviv.
A CAUSE FOR UPROAR
After long negotiations, the deal was all but sealed when the uproar ensued. In retrospect, it was inevitable, to be expected. Both sides should have known better.
At issue were Allianz's ties to the Nazis during World War II, a history it still can't shake. As reported by Richard Sandomir in The New York Times, Scott Stringer, the borough president of Manhattan urged executives of the two teams to "act boldly" and "spurn any ties with Allianz." He demanded as well that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which had an inundation of calls and media inquiries on the situation, cancel the proposed arrangement.
Stringer said "Allianz's actions to expiate its guilt or make financial restitution should have nothing to do with a rejection of its bid," Sandomir wrote. "The company's post-war behavior, he added, cannot reduce the pain Holocaust survivors and their families would feel if they saw Allianz's name on the stadium."
And this played out in the New York metropolitan area which has the largest concentration of Jews outside of Jerusalem, many of them Holocaust survivors, their children and their grandchildren.
During the war, "Allianz insured facilities at concentration camps like Auschwitz and betrayed thousands of its Jewish clients by giving the cash proceeds from their policies to the Nazis," Sandomir also wrote.
In addition, the insurer's wartime chief executive served in Hitler's cabinet, all of which has little to do with the current management and workers at Allianz except that they have to live with this unfortunate history. Even so, wrote Sandomir, survivors "believe Allianz has not come even close to adequately compensating the victims of its complicity with the Nazis."
In the end, the plan was abandoned by both sides. Good for Allianz. Good for the Giants and the Jets. Good for the American insurance industry too, which has suffered too many self-inflicted wounds to its reputation over the years.
This one at least was a near miss.
THOMAS J. SLATTERY, a writer on industry affairs, is managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
November 1, 2008
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