(photograph by Jesper Eklow)

Daniel Gross of Slate, the web’s official home for counterintuitive (rather than contrarian) analysis, weighs in on Citi Field:

For companies in highly competitive consumer markets, marketing and advertising are essential, entirely justifiable expenses. Companies”even companies getting bailed out by the feds”need to attract customers and to build their brand image. It’s difficult to measure the value of any specific campaign or ad. But there’s reason to think that for this company, at this stadium, in this location, a naming-rights deal might not be such a bad long-term move.

The cost is high”$400 million over 20 years. But the present-day cost isn’t quite as high as you think, especially if, as Darren Rovell of CNBC suggests, it is paid out in annual installments. In 2029, $20 million will be worth a lot less than $20 million is today. And any type of advertising that reaches a lot of people is expensive. In this economy, NBC was able to charge $3 million for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. Though the audience size for Mets games won’t approach that of the Super Bowl, the location of the stadium guarantees that the Citi logo will be visible to hundreds of millions of people each year. Citi Field is a giant billboard that will be visible not just to the 4 million-plus people who attend Mets games each year but to the tens of millions of people who drive past it on the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck Expressway, and other roadways and the 25 million or so passengers who fly into and out of LaGuardia Airport each year.

And stadium naming deals generate a huge amount of free advertising. On the broadcasts of the team’s 81 home games (and, sponsors hope, post-season games), announcers will repeatedly refer to the company’s name in a nonadvertising context: “Welcome back to Citi Field.” Likewise, newspaper, Internet, and television coverage will produce hundreds of millions of impressions of the company’s name per year.

I don’t know if I’m wholly persuaded by the argument, but I do know that the anti-Citi sentiment, be it from Philadelphia bloggers (as if the Phillies have any moral superiority), Dennis Kucinich or the average fan, is primarily a case of misdirecting anger about one thing (the bank bailouts) towards another we already hated more (naming rights in general, public financing for stadiums). And Citi probably loves the fact that everyone is focused on their $50 million plane and $400 million Mets deal; that still leaves them $44.55 billion to mess around with minus sound-bite scrutiny.