Secret message makes it into new park

Updated: April 16, 2004, 4:10 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

Taking a page out of an old high school yearbook trick, an official with an animal rights organization successfully placed a hidden message in a brick on the grounds of the San Diego Padres new stadium, Petco Park.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had a 12-word statement engraved in an 8-by-8 inch brick -- the commemorative bricks were offered by the Padres as part of a permanent display surrounding the team's new $411 million stadium.

The message reads, "Break Open Your Cold Ones! Toast The Padres! Enjoy This Championship Organization!" The first letter of every word spells "BOYCOTT PETCO."

"Petco Park might be the place where homers go to die, but PETCO stores are where animals go to die," said Dan Shannon, a PETA campaign coordinator.

PETCO, which has more than 650 stores in 43 states, sells animals as well as pet-related products. In January 2003, the company purchased the naming rights to the Padres' new stadium, a 22-year deal worth $60 million.

Earlier this week, Padres and PETCO officials discussed whether something should be done with the brick, but PETCO executives had no problem with it.

"If you walked by and read their message, you wouldn't know it had anything to do with PETA," said Don Cowan, PETCO's director of communications.

PETA, which objects to the sale of animals altogether, has targeted PETCO for months, written letters to Padres executives in hopes that they would cancel the naming rights agreement. They have also sent out monthly casualty reports citing animal deaths in PETCO stores to company officials.

PETCO officials contend that they have investigated some of the reports submitted by PETA and most, they say, are mischaracterizations. Since 1965, PETCO has adopted more than one million animals and over the past five years has given a total of $18 million to 1,900 animal shelters, according to Cowan.

Over the past month, Petco Park has generated 100 million online and broadcast media impressions for PETCO for mentions of the park's name, Cowan added.

PETA has been active in the sports world of late. In 2002, the Milwaukee Brewers denied PETA's request to include a vegetarian soy sausage in the Brewers' traditional game-day race of mascots, which includes a bratwurst, a hot dog, a Polish and Italian sausage.

Shannon said that PETA plans on sending letters to the two NBA Rookie of the Year frontrunners, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, advising them to turn down the award since it is sponsored by "Got Milk?," a campaign overseen by the California Milk Processors Board. PETA officials say they object to the cruelty that dairy cows endure as a result of their treatment by dairy farmers.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter