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A Game of Two Halves
After the ‘@ St James’ Park’ saga, should clubs sell stadium naming rights?
                                                                                                                             birth, is it not more likely to be the   ball club will always belong to its
                                                                                   Ben Marsh                                 case that a person suits their name?     supporters, in spirit if not on paper.
                                                                                                                                Of course if one uninspiring          They are the intangible asset who,


                                                                                   L      ast Saturday I made the trip
                                                                                          to watch my new local side,
                                                                                          Coventry City, at the Ricoh
                                                                                   Arena. Despite it having been chris-
                                                                                   tened with a name that invokes all
                                                                                                                             name was not enough, the chances
                                                                                                                             are that sooner or later a new com-
                                                                                                                             pany will pay to have its name in
                                                                                                                             lights. Wigan’s JJB Stadium for ex-
                                                                                                                             ample became the DW Stadium this
                                                                                                                                                                      unlike the rights to name a stadium,
                                                                                                                                                                      are priceless.
                                                                                                                                                                          And so to the latest exploits of
                                                                                                                                                                      Newcastle United owner Mike Ash-
                                                                                                                                                                      ley, a man whose PR record makes
                                                                                   the fervent passion that is usually       year and it will only be a matter of     El Hadji Diouf look like the darling
                                                                                   associated with the office photo-         time before the title again changes.     of English football. Mr Ashley’s
                                                                                   copier industry, the modern 32,000        These days players and managers          latest ploy of flogging the rights to
                                                                                   capacity complex was barely half          come and go at an alarmingly rapid       the already perfectly well named
                                                                                   full, with supporters sparsely scat-      rate, eroding the continuity and         St James’ Park smacks of a desper-
                                                                                   tered around the stadium like the         sense of history that only unwaver-      ate cash-in, especially when he has
                                                                                   few weary attendees at a nine o’clock     ing supporters continue to uphold.       been unable to sell the club at £50
                                                                                   lecture on a Friday.                      Now that ground names have also          million below the price he paid for
                                                                                      The stand in which I was sit-          succumbed to this revolving-door         it just two years ago.
                                                                                   ting might traditionally have been        effect, it sets a troubling precedent        Newcastle’s beleaguered fans the
                                                                                   named after a past hero who had           for the future.                          Toon Army are an uncomplicated
                                                                                   led their club to fame and glory in          What if the name of the club it-      bunch, very much reflecting their
                                                                                   grainy black and white, but this was      self is no longer sacrosanct? In 2005    team’s colours, and it suffices to say
                                         London side could not enjoy the           not to be at the Ricoh. Well, not         Austria Salzburg became Red Bull         that they have not reacted to this
Ben Lamb                                 facilities of this architectural work     unless the mercurial talisman after       Salzburg, with the energy drinks         latest debacle well. Then again, they
                                         of modern art.                            which the stand was titled was one        company claiming on the team’s           certainly have not met the decision
                                            As for Newcastle, after relegation     Johnny Tesco.                             website that their purchase was now      with any real surprise either, having


F      ootball is a sport which re-
       lies on frequent reinvention.
       Without any development
we would still be watching men
wearing caps and moustaches kick-
                                         from a 16 year stint in the Premier
                                         League which featured a closely
                                         fought battle for the title with
                                         Manchester United, the newly ap-
                                         pointed Championship side needs
                                                                                      Obviously something seem-
                                                                                   ingly as trivial as a football ground’s
                                                                                   name can hardly be blamed for the
                                                                                   disappointing attendance, nor can
                                                                                   it be held accountable for the lack-
                                                                                                                             a completely new team “with no his-
                                                                                                                             tory and no records”. Despite peti-
                                                                                                                             tions, protests and even the forming
                                                                                                                             of a new independent club by furi-
                                                                                                                             ous fans, the brand name remains
                                                                                                                                                                      become accustomed to the level of
                                                                                                                                                                      incompetence with which their club
                                                                                                                                                                      is being run. Team kit manufacturer
                                                                                                                                                                      Adidas, who had been mentioned as
                                                                                                                                                                      a prospective buyer for the ground’s
ing around an old-fashioned leather      to find a way to make ends meet           lustre display of the team on the         and the team which was officially        naming rights, showed a level of
ball at zero miles per hour. Since       and attract skilful enough players        pitch (Coventry lost 3-1), but it is      formed in 2005 now play in the red,      market awareness that Ashley
England were beaten 6-3 against          before they find themselves a long        symptomatic of the commercialism          white and blue of their new own-         would do well to learn from by run-
Hungary in 1953, the idea of free        established Championship side.            which is marbled through the mod-         ers rather than the purple of their      ning a mile and explicitly stated that
flowing football was the first in a      With yet another failed attempt to        ern game.                                 previous incarnation. Home games         they were not at all interested. New
string of key changes which has          sell his club Mike Ashley has every          Gleaming new stadia are an in-         are of course played at the Red Bull     modern stadia are one thing, but to
evolved football into the extraor-       right to sell the naming rights of St     evitable advance but festooning           Arena.                                   alter the name of a ground which
dinary visual spectacle that it is       James’ Park.                              them with corporate branding sets            As portions of a club are sold off,   has stood since 1892 is sacrilege.
today.                                      To suggest that selling the name       the wrong tone from the outset. The       renamed and rebranded, we end up             For all the damage that has been
   Many critics moan and groan           of a stadium detracts from the            character that comes with an histor-      with a scenario which would make         done to the club though, Newcastle
about the modern politics of foot-       team's past successes is ludicrous.       ic ground cannot be bought or sold.       Trigger of Only Fools and Horses         United will remain intact, held to-
ball and praise ‘the good old days’      People will still remember the goal          A name is the ultimate first im-       fame proud. With all the changes in      gether by the dedication of its fans.
when footballers were paid next to       hungry success of Alan Shearer and        pression. We might say to someone         the stadium name, kit, players, staff,   Fans who, for the rest of the season
nothing and played for the sheer         their glory days in the premiership       that their name ‘suits’ them but,         and – in the case of the MK Dons         at least, will be watching their team
love of the sport. But times have        whatever the name of their new            since it is often something which         – location, are supporters really fol-   at the sportsdirect.com @ St James'
drastically changed and we must          stadium. As it has already done for       has been decided even before their        lowing the same old club? A foot-        Park Stadium.
look to the future. The phrase ‘it’s     Bolton and Hull, this will be the
only a game’ now accounts for            start of a whole new team, a new
nothing as football is first and fore-   chapter of success in their long
most a business. With players being      history which will be nostalgically
bought and sold for hundreds of          looked back on in years to come.
millions, a team without any mon-        After all, football clubs have always
ey in the premier league is worth-       had the names of various sponsors
less. The question of player fees is     splashed across their strips along
another debate altogether but for        with advertisements lighting up
the time being we have to except         the sides of the pitch. This is no dif-
football as a multi million pound        ferent.
industry. Therefore teams with lit-         The premier league is quintes-                                                        "new stadia are an inevi-
tle money in comparison to the           sentially the world’s best football                                                    table advance but festoon-
infamous ‘big four’ or Manchester        league. It attracts viewers across the                                                 ing them with corporate
City need to seek other means to         globe providing more support than                                                      branding sets the wrong
fund their team other than solely        La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga                                                    tone from the outset"
relying on the deep pockets of their     despite Real Madrid’s recent spend-
chairman.                                ing spree. Therefore the Premier
   One of these methods is for the       league needs to be kept in circula-
club to sell the naming rights of        tion, especially if we are to win our
their stadium. Newcastle United          latest World Cup bid for 2018. Sell-
may be the latest club to grab head-     ing the naming rights of stadiums is
lines and cause controversy by go-       just one way of doing this.
ing down such a route, but this is          It is only a matter of time before
already common practice which            even the most successful of teams
has not exactly done Arsenal any         such as Manchester United, cur-
harm. The breathtaking structure         rently reported to be in over £600
of the Emirates stadium causes eve-      million of debt, and Liverpool,
ryone who travels into London to         with supporters clubbing together
gasp in awe as their train pulls into    to buy shares in an attempt to avoid
Kings Cross Station. Highbury had        administration, will be selling their
had its day and if it weren’t for such   stadium names to keep afloat so we
a sponsorship, fans of the North         might as well just accept it.

				
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posted:9/27/2011
language:English
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