Published on November 19, 2012 | by Miles Crallan

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Money talks: The stadium naming rights debate

Like Neil Armstrong, Trevor Francis is a man notably known for being the first of his kind to achieve what no other man had done before, when he become the first British footballer  to transfer for over £1million pound in February 1979 whilst signing for Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forrest.

It’s a figure that football fans of today look back on with a slight frown upon their faces. Post Premier League era, and £1million is an amount that is simply drafted into many top earning footballers bank accounts each and every month. Even when not playing, and gallivanting around an Argentinean golf courses in some extreme cases.

Money has changed football and sport alike throughout the world.  Stadiums are bigger, athletes are earning more money, ticket prices have increased, television rights have soured and the price of a half-time pie has multiplied at the same rate as the 1980s mullet haircut has disappeared.

There is no doubting the history of money in sport. Looking back at Bjorn Borg’s £20,000 prize money for winning Wimbledon in the same year Francis became the ‘first £1million pound man’; it was an astronomical amount of money for anyone to be awarded 33 years ago. But today, the ratio in which money inside of sport has propelled from the average man is somewhat astronomical.

We today live in a world where a Russian football team, FC Anzi Makhachkala, are prepared to pay a human being £51,840 per day. Every day, for seven days a week. And where the male winner of the prestigious Wimbledon takes home £1,150,000, a staggering 57 and half times more than Borg’s amount in 79’.

One thing that has remained the same throughout the snowball effect money in sport has caused is tradition– until now that is. Since 1892 St. James’ Park has been home to Newcastle United Football Club.

It’s a place of worship for supporters of the club and a household name to all football fans up and down the country. But in November of 2011, owner Mike Ashley gracelessly renamed the stadium Sports Direct Arena.

The move was done in order to showcase the sponsorship opportunity to interested parties but the move backfired against those who it mattered to most, the fans.

In October 2012, loan company ‘Wonga’ sealed a four year sponsorship deal the club which saw them own the rights to the stadium name.

Less than a year of being branded the Sports Direct Arena, the stadium reverted back to the St. James Park, with the joys of Gerodies jubilations still ringing out.

A similar occurrence happened in 2001 when Southampton officially named their new stadium ‘The Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium’.

Initially the club wanted the ground to be named purely after sponsors but fan pressure influenced a decision to include a non-commercial title.

This lead to future sponsor Flybe.com choosing not to purchase the naming rights to the stadium in 2006, resulting in the stadium being named ‘St Mary’s Stadium’.

With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule applying from the 2013/2014 season, Manchester City sealed a £10million a year deal that will last for 10 seasons with Etihad Airways in 2011.

The deal allowed the airway giants to change the name of the City of Manchester Stadium and to print their company across the City shirt.

The deal is seen as a huge boost in City’s search to meet the new fair play regulations which states teams are unable to spend more than the income they generate from the football side of their business, meaning every penny profited from gate receipts, sponsorships and TV deals are fundamental in reaching the criteria.

When a club moves from an old stadium with a historic name, to a monstrous new stadium the change in name normally has a less damming effect on the majority of supporters.

For example, Arsenal moved from Highbury in 2006 to the flashy new Emirates Stadium, whilst Bolton Wanderers transferred from Burnden Park to the Reebok Stadium in 1997 all without an uproar from fans after a new commercialised name was announced.

Why? Because it is a new stadium, a blank canvas to start fresh from – a place to create history.

Of late, Chelsea and Liverpool are two of the biggest teams who are reportedly set to sell the naming rights of their stadiums. After Chelsea suffered serious financial implications in the 1970s and 1980s, Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO), a non-profitable organisation was created and in 1997 purchased the Stamford Bridge freehold as well as owning the naming rights of Chelsea Football Club.

This therefore means, any future name or stadium change will have to agree with at least 75% of the CPO’s in order for change to occur.

However it’s not only football that has seen plans for stadium naming rights to be sold. The Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) are set to maximise it’s earning potential by attracting new sponsors to Murrayfield Stadium in order to clear £13million worth of debt.

The stadium has played host to the Scots since 1925 and a change in name is sure to ignite a rift amongst the nation’s traditionalist supporters and the SRU. However, many will feel the money generated will be able to benefit the sports future in the long term.

Once a name has been sold, it doesn’t last forever. It lasts simply as long as the agreed contract, meaning a stadium could theoretically have a new name every 10 years.

When the contract is up, a larger figure will be put down and a new name will be given. It’s a cycle like the sacking of an England national manager that will never stop revolving.

Many football clubs are seeing the name of their stadium as a power tool which will allow them to generate millions of extra pounds each year. But how far can naming rights go before the sporting world is swamped in commercialised nonsense which tears up tradition in an instance.

Chesterfield Football Club’s stadium is now called the Proact Stadium, formerly the b2net Stadium. The 93-year-old club is now named after Europe’s leading independent storage instigator and cloud service enabler.

It says very little about the club’s history or the surrounding town, but says a lot more about the way in which football seeks every opportunity to turn what was once seen as a non-profitable piece of history into cash.

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