Arsenal have the Emirates Stadium, Scarborough have the McCain stadium, Inverness Caley’s stadium is called the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium and Stirling Albion’s ground is called the Doubletree Dunblane Stadium. Today Manchester City announced a sponsorship deal with airline company Etihad, reportedly worth around £300 million over ten years. The deal includes sponsorship of the area around the stadium and various other Manchester City interests.
The City deal blows apart the Emirates airline deal to pay £100 million for their stadium sponsorship of Arsenal’s new ground, which runs out at the end of Season 2020-2021. The deal also included sponsoring of the club’s playing kit, giving the airline the right to advertising in the new stadium, merchandising rights and the right to promote and sell its official airline services by referring to the Arsenal brand.
In German Football, they have sponsored stadiums galore, from the Allianz Arena of Bayern Munich to VFB Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz Arena to Eintracht Frankfurt’s Commerzbank-Arena. So if it is good for the Bundesliga why shouldn’t it be good enough for Scottish Football?
Scotland’s National Stadium, Hampden Park, has its main stand sponsored by Telecommunications giant British Telecom [BT], who ploughed in £5 million in 1998, and in 2008 the deal was renewed for a further six years worth £2.5 million. And as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s stadium is called the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium. Tulloch Construction, who are Inverness’ biggest shareholder also paid part of the development cost of the stadium.
Scottish clubs are suffering financially in the current climate, even more so given the influx of funds across the border in England. Even the Old Firm are financially worse off than they were ten years ago, and while many fans would be dead against the likes of Ibrox and Celtic Park being renamed in return for money. It is money that is badly needed in the Scottish game let alone in the Old Firm coffers.
But despite this ‘reality’ many fans would be up in arms as I have stated, sentiments shared by journalist Ollie Holt of the Mirror, who commented on his Twitter page:
“There are many ways in which the current owners of Manchester City have shown class. Renaming the stadium after a sponsor isn’t one of them. I know part of the answer is FFP [Financial Fair Play] but if City have got so much cash, why do they have to sell a piece of their soul for stadium naming rights? Many City fans saying they don’t care about stadium renaming because new stadium never had an identity anyway. Sad comment on the game. Is it acceptable then to change name of team too? Presumably all in favour of Etihad Stadium would be fine with Etihad City as name of team.”
Likewise Newcastle United fans were up in arms over owner Mike Ashley’s decision to rename St. James’ Park, the sportsdirect @ St. James’ Park stadium. Hopefully Mr Ashley let his wife name their kids, because he certainly doesn’t have the knack for picking names.
Too this day Newcastle United officially play at the sportsdirect @ St. James’ Park stadium, however it is rarely called that, even in official publications – including the match programme which still refers to the ground as St. James’ Park.
Ollie Holt continued his onslaught on the new cash cow of renaming stadiums by claiming: “If you defile the stadium by prostituting its name, you destroy part of the experience.”
However the Newcastle model proves that the renaming of the stadium has had little or no effect, after the initial mutiny in the terracing. Given that the fans still refer to it as St. James’ Park.
The Old Firm have already considered renaming their stadiums in recent years, but to date no such plan has been accepted. But such a decision, which obviously would bring on criticism from the fans, would bring in tens of millions of pounds over a certain number of years. The deal would certainly not be in the Arsenal or the Manchester City price bracket, but it certainly would not be as little as what BT paid for sponsoring the National stadium.
Former Rangers Chairman Alastair Johnston ruled out the re-naming of Ibrox in 2009. A decision backed by the majority of the club’s shareholders then. He said: “One thing we will not be putting in this business plan, or in future business plans, there is no plan to sell the naming rights to this stadium. Ibrox is non-negotiable.”
And last month new Rangers Director of Operations and Commercial Activity Ali Russell, stated likewise: “Selling the naming rights is not something we’d go out and look at. Ibrox is synonymous with Rangers Football Club so I don’t think it’s something we would consider at this stage. We’re very protective of our intellectual property and Ibrox is synonymous with Rangers.”
There were rumours a number of years ago that Global Sports Brand, Nike, were planning on offering Celtic a financial package that would see the club receive around £25 million, plus the money to cover the building of a new Main Stand that would have increased the stadium’s capacity to around 75,000, in exchange Nike would have the naming rights to the stadium.
This rumoured plan never materialised, however such an amount for either side of the Old Firm would help both clubs significantly in the transfer market, reducing debts and even covering maintenance costs of the stadium.
The stadium may have been called ‘Nike Park, Nike Celtic Park or the Celtic Nike Arena’ or another variation, but the fans would always call it Celtic Park, Paradise or Parkhead. Club merchandise and publications would obviously refer to the stadium as Nike Celtic Park, as would the media, but the name change would not result in the ‘destroying part of the experience’ as Ollie Holt commented.
The soul of the stadium, the experience, is not in the name of the stadium but of the atmosphere created by the fans, by the action on the park. Today, the modern game in Scottish Football is losing part of its soul anyway, as the fans are being priced out of attending games. Selling naming rights to the stadium, could ultimately help to reduce costs for at least a number of years, to allow the club to reduce ticket prices to entice the fans back to the games.
Ultimately Scottish clubs must look for new avenues of bringing in cash to keep their clubs in the game, and the Stadium Naming Rights option is possibly, not only the easiest way of bringing in much-needed finance but also the least costly to the clubs also.
Maybe just maybe we could see a Scotzine Park further down the line, possibly instead of Ibrox Park.