What's in a name?

Earlier this season, I read a newspaper opinion piece where the journalist had attended a match at Chesterfield’s new stadium and was bemoaning the fact that he had to sit in a stadium where the naming rights had been sold, as Chesterfield ‘s new stadium is called the b2net stadium. The gist of the piece was that this journo was completely opposed to naming rights being sold at all.

I realise that to most of you reading this on the opposite side of the Atlantic to me, sports stadiums and arenas where the naming rights have been sold has been around in North America for a long time. You may not necessarily like it and may have complained at the time, but you’re probably used to it. It is a relatively new thing in England however.

To the best of my knowledge, the first English club to sell their naming rights were the now-defunct Scarborough, who in 1988 sold their stadium’s naming rights to the frozen food company McCain, meaning their ground was known as the McCain stadium (or, the theatre of chips!).

Many other English clubs have followed suit. In the Premier League, Arsenal, Bolton, Stoke and Wigan all have sold the naming rights to their respective stadiums and Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City are exploring the possibility. In the Championship, five clubs have also have sold their naming rights.
This week, Liverpool announced that they were open to selling the naming rights of their new stadium (if it’s decided that developing Anfield is not cost-effective, a decision that has yet to be taken). "We are actively seeking a naming partner if we move to a new stadium but will definitely not consider renaming Anfield," said Liverpool Managing Director Ian Ayre. fficeffice" />>>

Honestly, I’ve got no problem at all with this. I’d hate Anfield to be known by any other name (even though it’d always be Anfield to fans), but it wouldn’t bother me if a new stadium had a corporate name.

One of the big arguments against is that there is a lot of tradition around football stadiums and that selling the naming rights sullies this. I understand this argument. Many English grounds are well over 100 years old and have been the focal point for their town for years. For most English grounds it would be bizarre to call them by any other name. When Newcastle re-named St James’ Park SportsDirect.com@St James’ Park (does anyone know if it’s still officially called that or was it just a temporary thing? the club website calls it St James’ Park), there was an outcry that the owners had messed with the heritage of one of Britain’s oldest and best stadiums. Nobody called it by its new name; it was always just referred to at St James’ Park.

However, when a team moves to a new ground, I don’t see how that argument continues to hold water. I don’t believe that you transport tradition from one place to another. You can bring over all of the trophies, statues, gateways, memorials and any other artefacts that were around the old stadium, but it is not the same, the mystique that each football ground has cannot be replicated in a new location.

Some people argue that selling naming rights to your stadium equates to selling your soul of your club. That over-commercialism has destroyed tradition. However, I think that tradition is what you make it to be and when a club moves to a new stadium, it’s a totally new start and I don’t see a problem with selling the naming rights. For the top clubs, the revenue may mean that you sign one extra good player per season, for the lower-division clubs it may be as important as the difference between keeping themselves financially afloat and administration, especially as the money at the top of the game doesn’t trickle down.

Whilst I wouldn’t have a problem with Liverpool selling naming rights to a new stadium there is one condition. No stupid names. York City once sold the naming rights to their Bootham Crescent stadium to Nestle, and it was given the ridiculous name KitKat Crescent. So, as long as the new name doesn’t sound stupid, I’ve no problem.

If you want to protest against over-commercialisation in football and the game selling its soul, you’re about twenty years too late. Teams in England play in either the Barclays Premier League or the npower Championship or npower leagues one or two. Below the football league, the non-leagues are also all sponsored. Teams also play in the Carling Cup, The FA Cup sponsored by E.on or the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Almost every team is sponsored and most of the lower league clubs have individual players sponsored by local companies.

That’s before you consider that the league has commercial partners, as do individual clubs. Liverpool, as well as having a shirt sponsor and a kit supplier, have eight official commercial partners, Manchester United have eleven. It will be a similar story for every Premier League club.

Over-commercialisation isn’t something that may happen in the future if we’re not careful; it’s something that happened years ago.