9 November 2009 ~ Football clubs are herd animals. Once one gets an idea in their head, no matter how stupid, it can quickly become a stampede. This week the nervous twitching was caused by the notion that the biggest clubs in the country cannot get by without attaching the name of a sponsor to their stadium. Newcastle’s campaign to become the official laughing stock of European football took another bold step forward with the news that they now play at the James’ Park Stadium. Before the first 50,000 fans had signed internet protest petitions, Chelsea admitted they might be open to offers for naming rights to Stamford Bridge.

Then Liverpool boldly rated the value of their purported new stadium’s name at £250 million. Naming stadiums after sponsors is nothing new of course. Roughly half the clubs who have built grounds since the late 1980s have flicked idly through the football equivalent of baby name books before settling for Your-company’s-name-here Stadium. A few, such as Wigan and Huddersfield, have already changed it as a result. Of those clubs, Arsenal’s decision on their new stadium at Ashburton Grove aroused most controversy. One reason was their supposed reverence for tradition, which appeared to count for nothing. Another was the size of the club.

Few would begrudge a club such as Doncaster any money they could attract for naming rights, but the £100m Arsenal received from Emirates for a 15-year deal, which included eight years of shirt sponsorship, made the club look simultaneously greedy and petty. Working out at a few million pounds a season, it is small change compared with the revenue from a single successful Champions League season. Not only are the clubs selling a key part of their tradition and identity, they aren’t even getting much of a price. Chelsea’s mooted £150m may sound impressive but that could easily be eaten up by misplaced investments in two or three Andriy Shevchenkos over a decade.

Ron Gourlay, who seems to have achieved the impossible by making Peter Kenyon seem sympathetic, refers to the ‘‘upside’’ of the ‘‘new value’’ created in the club’s ‘‘sponsorship architecture’’. Liverpool’s enigmatic duo want to ‘‘partner with someone wanting global branding’’. This is the language of the high-stakes gamblers whose custody of the world economy has recently proved so successful, and aptly so. Because selling stadium names is no cold addition to a solid business but a desperate play by clubs that owe hundreds of millions of pounds.

Gourlay is sure Chelsea fans will appreciate the fact that they cannot let any other club gain a competitive advantage. Maybe so. But the curious name of the club’s ground (the bridge is thought to be that tiny hump in the road over what used to be a creek near the main entrance) is almost the only link left with its unusual early history. Perhaps at least some of them would appreciate that more.
Mike Ticher

Comments (6)
Comment by The Exploding Vole 2009-11-09 14:21:57

"Few would begrudge a club such as Doncaster any money they could attract for naming rights"

Well, I would. I'd rather there be no money for anyone for any sort of naming rights than for rich clubs to obtain comparatively more money for the opportunity. Ultimately this only puts the weaker clubs at a greater financial disadvantage.

Comment by Ulsterman 2009-11-09 15:00:23

There will always be something "sleezy" about re-naming a ground which has been establised for years. Sadly the world of commerce controls clubs and directors will always be on the look-out to build their coffers. An excuse can be offered for brand new stadiums, although sufficent revenue is obtained by the sale of ols grounds for development Presently it is ground names and next it will be something else. IT'S THE WORLD WE LIVE IN !

Comment by loppy 2009-11-09 20:32:47

That would be Doncasters Keepmoat Stadium yes? Owned not by Doncaster Rovers, or the Belles, or the rugby boys for that matter, but by Doncaster Council. And Keepmoat would be a contractor mainly employed to provide Council housing. Therefore presumably the naming rights only benefited the council and Donnie Rovers actually made diddly squat out of the Keepmoat naming.

Comment by jackofalltrades 2009-11-10 15:09:34

Could I use this forum to start the campaign for Newcastle United fans to buy Sports Direct shares until they have enough to table a motion of no-confidence in Ashley and get him the sack?

See how he likes it when we mess with HIS company.....

Comment by Lincoln 2009-11-10 15:15:51

Clubs have been naming stands for years, not that much difference. Also the indifference to a few million quid in this article is startling. Perhaps clubs should stop charging every tenth fan for entry to games as this only comes to a couple of million quid. At the end of the day it all adds up.
The pretence that football hasn't sold its soul if we can holt naming rights is not acceptable. Football is all about money and has been since 1993. Whether a stadium keeps its name or not doesn't mean there is any more or less of a link to the past. When a team begins to change its name to suit sponsors, that is when we should have our collective moral compass spinning.

Comment by Lincoln 2009-11-10 15:18:24

Also missed off here, I dislike the way the change of a name is being put down as some crisis for poor Newcastle. Take a trip to Chester and ask them whether they would swap financial solvency for their ground's name officially being something a bit tacky. People will always call it St James Park no matter what it is offically called.

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