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Aerial view of the newly renamed Crypto.com Arena

'Tis the season, right? Traditionally, the time around the winter solstice is one of reflection, spirituality and festivities — including Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.

In modern-day America, however, this season largely serves as a signal for the faithful to gather from afar in monumental temples to worship our nation's supreme secular deity: Big-Time Sports!

Get ready for weeks of being caught up in a nonstop frenzy of bowl games, pro football playoffs, soccer and more — with devout fans crisscrossing the nation in tribal pilgrimages to worship in their sacred stadiums and arenas. But whatever the sport, the name of the game these days is the same: M-O-N-E-Y.

Like other multibillion-dollar global corporate giants, the people's sport franchises are firmly in the grip of a self-regulating handful of secretive, uber-rich, autocratic owners. We might worship the team that actually plays the sport, but our money mostly goes to this ruling clique of billionaire barons.

Consider those gargantuan houses of worship where the games are played. We The People (including non-worshippers) paid for nearly all of them with tax dollars, usually with no chance to vote on the giveaway. Yet a few dozen profiteering team owners are given control of the venues. They set and collect the outrageous prices of tickets to enter and are even allowed to gouge the faithful by charging $15 for one small beer!

Most insulting, these rich public-welfare moochers pocket millions of extra dollars a year by turning these huge edifices (even those built with the people's money) into private billboards by selling off the so-called "naming rights" to the highest corporate bidders. Thus, dozens of major sports facilities dotting our land don't honor the cities they're in, the citizenry or even the team. Instead, they're gaudily plastered with corporate brand names like American Airlines Arena, FedEx Field, Gillette Stadium, Minute Maid Park, RCA Dome and Toyota Center — as though the venues are corporate-owned.

The money game is yet another corporate swindle, made even more corrupt by its expropriation of America's sporting spirit for private greed.

Advertising has been characterized as rattling a stick in a bucket — a noisy cry for public attention.

One example of this class of hucksterism is the rush by supposedly brilliant top executives of multibillion-dollar corporations to splatter their corporate names on sports venues.

Responding to a blatant scam by team owners, corporate executives are spending absurd sums of their shareholders' money to "win" temporary naming rights to local stadiums, arenas, etc. The come-on is that this billboarding will buy brand recognition, customer loyalty and even public gratitude for the purchaser.

Seriously? Do you fly Delta, bank at Wells Fargo or drive a Toyota because their names are on a big sports structure somewhere? And what do outfits like Ameriquest, Qualcomm and FTX even sell — and where are they located? As for public gratitude, ask Houstonians how thankful they are that global energy giant Enron slapped its name on the Astro's baseball park in 1999, just three years before the corporation was forced into bankruptcy for being guilty of massive fraud and squalid executive greed.

But the bucket-rattling name game keeps drawing new players. The latest entrants are purveyors of cryptocurrencies, the phantasmagoric, here-today-gone-tomorrow form of digital money. One of these, Crypto.com, has just laid out a ridiculous $700 million (presumably in real money, not "crypto") to put its occult brand name on the home arena of the Los Angeles Lakers. Why? The parties to the deal put it in grandiose terms — "a match made in heaven," exulted the arena's giddy owner, even proclaiming that Crypto.com will "help us chart a course for the future of sports."

Huh? I doubt that this cryptic, Singapore-based money dealer can even dribble a basketball, much less direct the sport's future! Like Enron and the rest, all it's doing is rattling the money bucket, turning sports into just another corporate money hustle.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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