Football Stadium Naming Rights and Sponsorship

sponsorship
Jason Batterham Bigstock.com

Nowadays the sponsorship of stadiums is a common occurrence, with one of the first questions as club has to answer upon the announcement of a new ground is, ‘Will you sell the stadium’s naming rights?’

But when did this start? Why is it such a readily accepted thing? And will we ever get to the point where fans don’t meekly agree to the selling of their stadium’s illustrious past in exchange for a paltry amount of money that they’re never going to be able to take advantage of anyway?

List of Sponsored Football Stadiums

Stadium Team(s) Sponsor
ABAX London Road Peterborough United ABAX
AFAS Stadion AZ Alkmaar AFAS Software
Allianz Arena Bayern Munich / TSV 1860 München Allianz Insurance
Allianz Riviera OGC Nice Allianz
Aviva Stadium Ireland Aviva
Banks’s Stadium Walsall Banks's Brewery
BayArena Bayer Leverkusen Bayer AG
Bet365 Stadium Stoke City FC Bet365
Boundary Park Oldham Athletic Sportsdirect.com
Brisbane Road Leyton Orient Matchroom Sport
Broadfield Stadium Crawley Town Checkatrade.com
Broadhall Way Stevenage Lamex
Caledonian Stadium Inverness Caledonian Thistle Tulloch
Crown Ground Accrington Stanley What More UK Ltd
DW Stadium Wigan Athletic DWSportsfitness
Falmer Stadium Brighton & Hove Albion American Express
Field Mill One Call Stadium Mansfield Town One Call Insurance
Friends Arena Sweden / AIK Fotboll Friends
Ghelamco Arena KAA Gent Ghelamco
Globe Arena Morecambe Globe Construction
John Smiths Stadium Huddersfield Town John Smith's
Juventus Stadium Juventus Allianz
Keepmoat Stadium Doncaster Rovers Keepmoat
King Power Stadium Leicester City FC King Power
Kingsmeadow AFC Wimbledon Cherry Red Records
Luminus Arena K.R.C. Genk Luminus
Matmut Atlantique Girondins de Bordeaux Matmut
New Meadow Shrewsbury Town Montgomery Waters
New York Stadium Rotherham United AESSEAL
Otkritie Arena Spartak Moscow Otkritie Bank
Parken Stadium FC Copenhagen / Denmark Telia
Philips Stadion PSV Eindhoven Philips
Pirelli Stadium Burton Albion Pirelli UK Tyres Ltd
Pride Park Derby County iPro
Priestfield Stadium Gillingham MEMS
Proact Stadium Chesterfield Proact
Red Bull Arena (Leipzig) RB Leipzig Red Bull
Red Bull Arena (Salzburg) FC Red Bull Salzburg Red Bull
Rhein-Neckar-Arena Hoffenheim Wirsol
RheinEnergieStadion FC Cologne RheinEnergie AG
Ricoh Arena Coventry City Ricoh
Signal Iduna Park Borussia Dortmund Signal Iduna Group
St James' Park Newcastle United FC Sports Direct
Stade Velodrome Olympique de Marseille Orange
Stadio Artemio Franchi ACF Fiorentina Municipality of Florence
Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium Fenerbahçe Ülker
The Emirates Arsenal FC Emirates
The Etihad Manchester City FC Etihad Airways
The KCOM Stadium Hull City AFC KC
The Macron Stadium Bolton Wanderers Macron
The Principality Stadium Wales Principality
Valley Parade Bradford City Northern Commercials
Veltins-Arena FC Schalke 04 Veltins
Victoria Park Ross County Global Energy
Victoria Road Dagenham & Redbridge Chigwell Construction
Vitality Stadium AFC Bournemouth Vitality
Vodafone Arena Beşiktaş J.K. Vodfone
Wanda Metropolitano Atletico Madrid Wanda
Weston Homes Community Stadium Colchester United Weston Homes
Whaddon Road Cheltenham Town LCI Rail

What Does Stadium Sponsorship Mean?

Let’s be honest, the renaming of a stadium doesn’t change an awful lot. If Old Trafford was suddenly called The HSBC Arena the football that is played inside wouldn’t get any better or worse. If Anfield became The John Lewis Stadium the place would still rock the socks off most opposition on a European night under the famous old lights. Stamford Bridge could become The Nike Bowl and the fans would remain bankers who like to wave plastic flags around the place in an attempt to replicate something that they’re not.

So why does it still feel wrong when we discuss the possibility of clubs changing the name of their home ground in exchange for the Yankee dollar or Chinese yen? Ultimately two things seem to hold sway over whether or not a stadium’s name being sold for money will seem strange or be accepted by the general public: Is it a brand new stadium? What is it called?

When Arsenal decided to leave Highbury Stadium for a brand new, state-of-the-art facility nearby the club’s fans wondered what the new ground would be called. Would ‘The New Highbury’ adorn the walls of a fancy new ground? Or would the club choose to name it after one of their most famous sons, like the Patrick Viera Crucible or George Graham Ground?

In the end the Gunners agreed a hugely impressive deal with Emirates Airways to become ‘The Emirates Stadium’ and, despite the protestations of a number of Arsenal fans, the name was taken on pretty quickly and without too much complaint. Fast forward a decade and it’s now difficult to imagine the place named anything else, with interest surrounding what it will be called when the deal with Emirates finally runs out.

That’s the interesting thing about naming rights, of course. If a stadium has had a name before then it’s difficult to imagine it being called anything else, even if the name you’re used to using is the name of some company you’ve never been a fan of before. That’s why trying to rename a ground that has had one particular name for many years will never really work.

marcon

When Bolton Wanderers ground opened in 1997 there was opposition to the idea of being named after the club’s sponsor on the grounds that it was impersonal and it demonstrated a degree of greed from the club. After a while, though The Reebok Stadium became beloved of Bolton fans, with the Wanderers supporters growing used to the name and taking it to their heart.

At the time of writing it is officially known as The Macron Stadium, thanks to a new naming deal with a different company. To Bolton fans, even the ones who disapproved of the club selling the name of the ground in the first place, it will always be known as The Reebok.

History and Future of Football Ground Sponsorship

As is the case with most terrible ideas in sport, the notion of renaming stadiums after brands seemed to originate in America. Over in the States there’s no subtlety to anything, with Pizza Hut Park and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park just two of the preposterously named grounds that sports fans have to attend if they want to see their team play live.

Not every American club goes down that route, of course. When the New York Mets agreed to call their newly built home after CitiGroup in exchange for over £200 million, The New York Yankees chief operating officer was asked if they would do a similar thing. “You wouldn’t rename the White House…you wouldn’t rename the Grand Canyon. This is Yankees Stadium, and this will always be Yankees Stadium!” was his response.

Ultimately, though, money talks. Whether it’s rugby, cricket or football teams, more and more stadiums in the UK are getting named after products so that the owners and shareholders can increase their profits. Lords Cricket Club might have refused to sell-out recently, but that cannot be said for the Oval Cricket Ground that has had numerous names over the years.

St James
By User:Ultra7 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Newcastle fans were apoplectic when their much-maligned owner decided to rename St. James’ Park after his sporting goods company, with visitors to the home of the Magpies being forced to refer to sportsdirect.com @ St. James’ Park when they went to watch the Georgies kick the ball about. They may bot have liked it and they may have eventually forced a change, but for a while there was nothing they could do about it when the club’s famous old ground was prostituted out for a few million pounds.

With Chelsea announcing recently that they planned to search for naming rights partners for Stamford Bridge, it’s fair to assume that clubs aren’t going to stop exploring such financial opportunities any time soon. The frustration for fans is perhaps not so much that clubs are selling their heritage, but that the supporters themselves don’t get to take advantage of it. Would Liverpool supporters, who staged a protest over ticket prices in the 2015-2016 season, accept a re-naming of Anfield if the owners promised it would mean all tickets reduced to £20 per game for the length of the sponsorship deal? We may find out the answer to such questions before too long.