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Named or shamed?

Lord's, Stamford Bridge and St James' Park

By Sam Lyon

When the New York Yankees built their new baseball stadium in 2007, chief operating officer Lonn Trost was asked if he would be selling off the naming rights for the new build.

His response? "You wouldn't rename the White House, you wouldn't rename Grant's Tomb and you wouldn't rename the Grand Canyon. This is Yankee Stadium, and this will always be Yankee Stadium."

The American franchise, a club soaked in history, success and tradition, turned down "incomparable" sums of money to retain a stadium name that is as synonymous as their pin-stripe kit.

How many fans across Britain wish their clubs adopted a similar stance?

Stadium rebrands are hardly alien in the UK. Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, Bolton's Reebok Stadium and Stoke's Britannia Stadium are high-profile examples, but they were certainly not the first.

Southampton, Scarborough and Huddersfield are other examples of clubs who sold their ground's name to sponsors.

But rebranding has rarely been as big news as now.

Chelsea and Newcastle are the latest football clubs to get involved in stadia renaming, while Lord's - the "home of cricket" - got caught up in the issue on Wednesday.

Many, many others will go down the naming rights route. It is absolutely too big an income stream to be ignored

Branding expert John Taylor

And while Lord's may have bucked the recent trend in declining to sell off its name, that, says Sports Impact branding expert John Taylor, will be the exception rather than the rule in the immediate future.

"It has only been a matter of time before this goldrush started," he told BBC Sport. "I have absolutely no doubt there will be many, many others who will follow and go down the naming rights route, for sure.

"The fact is that it is absolutely too big an income stream to be ignored."

Chelsea, who announced they were considering selling off the name of Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, are reported to be looking for a deal worth around £10m a year.

The Yankees' cross-town rivals the New York Mets sold the name of their new ground, opened this year, to CitiGroup for around $400m (£238m) over 20 years.

Small wonder, then, that clubs are increasingly comfortable in getting ground sponsors on board.

And while previous logic suggested rebrands would generally only work on new-build stadia, Taylor suggests that argument might not hold water in coming years.

"There's always going to be a backlash when you try to rename an existing stadium," he said. "But clubs know there is too big an opportunity to be missed here. With the financial divide ever growing, for example, between the haves and have nots in football, clubs have to look for ways to redress that financial imbalance.

"Clubs will have to sell the proposition to fans, involve them in the process, try to strike a balance between staying true to tradition and getting the best deal possible. But it absolutely can be done with existing stadia."

STRANGEST STADIUM REBRANDS
Sportsdirect.com@St James' Park (Newcastle United)
Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Colorado Rapids)
The KitKat Crescent (York City)
Bargain Booze Stadium (Witton Albion)
The Home Depot Stadium (LA Galaxy)
Playmobil Stadion (SpVgg Greuther Fürth)
Jobing.com Arena (Phoenix Coyotes)
The Easycredit Stadion (Nuremberg)
Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

That would appear to be the case in the example of another cricket ground, The Oval, which went through two different branding processes before landing on its current name The Brit Oval, while Leyton Orient (The Matchroom Stadium) and Huddersfield (The Galpharm Stadium) are also existing stadia which have been rebranded.

But try telling Newcastle fans that owner Mike Ashley's decision to rebrand St James' Park as sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park this month was a welcome change.

"Newcastle fans have got used to a lot of knocks over the years," says Mark Jensen of Newcastle fanzine 'The Mag', "but renaming St James' Park at all - let alone turning it into an e-mail address - is a joke.

"The rebranding of St James' Park will never be reasonable or acceptable, no matter how much money is thrown at it. The name of the ground is synonymous with the club, it is our spiritual home, and if you're going to sell that off you might as well have us playing in red and white stripes and call us Newcastle City.

"The tradition and heritage of our club is why the fans love it. It is not for sale."

The fans' backlash to the move was so fierce, in fact, a motion was raised in the House of Commons calling for Ashley to reconsider the name change.

It is safe to say Newcastle fans' dissatisfaction with Ashley ensured any such move would be met with opposition anyway, but Jensen's view would appear true of most football fans.

The likelihood of Manchester United fans supporting a rebrand of Old Trafford, or of Barcelona fans agreeing to the Nou Camp being renamed, appear slim.

And while Tottenham, another high-profile club looking to take advantage of the naming rights 'goldrush', might have the support of its fans, that's only because it is a new build, according to Tottenham Supporters Trust chairman Bernie Kingsley.

606: DEBATE
Dagger83

"I don't think supporters are ever entirely happy with a commercial name being attached to their stadium, but it is a fact of life in football now," he said.

"The supporters are comfortable with it in this instance because, not only have we been fully involved by the club in the process, it is a new stadium.

"We are not rebranding White Hart Lane. A thin line it might be, but a new stadium costs money and this goes a long way to financing it."

Nor have previous stadium rebrands always been a success, regardless of the support of fans.

Since 2003, Darlington's ground has gone through over half a dozen name changes, including The Reynolds Arena after controversial former owner George Reynolds.

Friends Provident ended their sponsorship of Southampton's St Mary's Stadium in 2006 and new sponsor Flybe chose not to exercise the naming rights.

American baseball outfit Houston Astros had to find a new backer for their ground after Enron declared bankruptcy and collapsed in 2002.

And yet sponsors are still keen to exploit a gap in the market.

The opportunity to secure "cut-through advertising and brand stand-out" is huge, with Taylor claiming naming rights to be "the newest and biggest revenue stream around now".

Stadium rebrands in the United States, for example, have long been commonplace. Bids to sponsor the new New York Giants and New York Jets joint stadium in New Jersey's Meadowlands complex, due to open in 2010, are reported in some quarters to have already reached $1bn (£600m).

Chelsea and Newcastle might have broken cover in revealing their plans to rebrand their existing stadiums, but with Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton - to name a few - also reported to be keen to sell off naming rights, experts believe grounds named after sponsors will soon be the norm.

American sports analyst Mike Carlson said: "The typical English reaction to any change is to be negative. Then it is to accept it, then cheer about it, then claim you invented it.

David Beckham
In Major League Soccer, they will do almost anything to make money and promote the game. This was proved not only in the signing of Beckham, but in the fact they could afford him

Sports analyst Mike Carlson

"In America, money talks. Stadium rebrands have long been commonplace, and fans don't generally have a strong opinion on it. They accept it is a fantastic advertising medium and companies will look to exploit - and pay big money for - what is a big opportunity for frontline marketing.

"I understand that football support in Britain, for example, is tribal, almost Neanderthal. It's regarded as a religion and with that comes a sense of tradition and heritage.

"But fans are crazy about not selling their stadium name, and yet they are happy to have a sponsor's name splashed all across their shirt. They are happy to see their big sporting events - the Grand National, the Carling Cup and so on - attached to a sponsor.

"And worst of all, they are comfortable with the club selling their best player to a rival club every summer. To an American that's just incomprehensible.

"Surely fans would be happy to play in the 'So-and-So' Stadium if it meant holding on to their best players, or better still buying better ones?"

A case in point might be the signing of David Beckham by LA Galaxy - a team that plays at the Home Depot Center - in 2007 in a five-year deal reportedly worth £128m.

"In Major League Soccer, they will do almost anything to make money and promote the game. This was proved not only in the signing of Beckham, but in the fact they could afford him," said Carlson.

And with the increased number of American owners in British football, exploiting stadium naming rights and other such marketing opportunities is likely to become even more common.

"American businessmen look at Premier League clubs and see an opportunity to make money," says Carlson, "because, frankly, the sport is not marketed or sold as well as it could be. They see scope for growth. Revenue streams like naming rights are a means to an end - growth."

Not that supporters need panic, though, he says.

"When the Yankees opted - for now, anyway - not to sell off the naming rights to the new stadium, some fans were still not happy because they didn't want to move in the first place.

"I know some fans that stopped going, stopped supporting them. And then this year, bang, they won the World Series and the fans are happy and dedicated again.

They own the club, they dictate who does what, and so the name of the stadium will be way down the list of what they're capable of doing and how it's going to change."

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp

"That's the bottom line. Fans are willing to forgive almost anything if they've got a winner."

And according to Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, the name of a club's stadium might be the last thing on a fan's list of concerns in years to come anyway.

"The whole thing's changed," he said. "Not only are the stadia changing, the owners are too - will there be an English owner of a football club left in the league in years to come?

"When that happens - and it's happening more and more - who knows where these owners will be taking us to play games. All over the world?

"If they want to take you to China to play, you go to China. If they want to take you to Russia, you go to Russia. You'll be out in Saudi Arabia or somewhere. That's how it's going isn't it?

"They own the club, they dictate who does what, and so the name of the stadium will be way down the list of what they're capable of doing and how it's going to change."

Stadium naming rights might be a point of current contention, then, but football fans be warned: it could just be the start.



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see also
MCC rules out renaming of Lord's
18 Nov 09 |  England
The joy of naming rights
06 Nov 09 |  Magazine
Chelsea ponder naming rights deal
05 Nov 09 |  Chelsea
Newcastle reveal new stadium name
04 Nov 09 |  Newcastle
Stadium name row reaches Commons
03 Nov 09 |  Tyne
In Pictures: Spurs unveil stadium revamp
26 Oct 09 |  People and Places
Yankees head for pastures new
20 Sep 08 |  Americas
Beckham agrees to LA Galaxy move
12 Jan 07 |  Football
Villa play down stadium renaming
20 Oct 06 |  Aston Villa


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