Stadium naming rights are part of the commercial side of modern football that, along with some of the other money making phenomenon, manage to rankle the fans of a more traditional persuasion. Music after goals, electronic advertising boards and overzealous stadium announcers are also included on many a hate list of fans that grew up in an era when shirt sponsors were a rarity. Naming rights of sports stadia, however, is not a new concept and can be traced back to the mid 1920’s America when a certain chewing gum industrialist going by the name of William Wrigley decided to name the ball park of the team he owned after his company in order to further his business and his brand. The World Series winning Chicago Cubs still play at Wrigley Field today and the trend set by Mr Wrigley quickly spread to nearly all the major sports stadia of North America.
Selling the rights to rename sports grounds after major corporations is, of course, a controversial issue. Many people see this as selling out, giving up a long held, often historic name in order to make money. There has been some resistance to the practice. San Francisco 49ers fans resisted the renaming of their old stadium, Candlestick Park, by passing propositions to prevent the name change. In other cases fans just agree not to use the new name and are in some cases supported by local media. The money involved can also be controversial. When Manchester City signed their monster contract with Etihad Airways for the naming rights for the City of Manchester Stadium there was more than a little suspicion that the £400 million over 10 years was a clever way of getting around the financial fair play regulations. When you consider that the Emirates Stadium naming rights saw Arsenal get £100 million over 15 years it suggests that the Man City deal was not done with market value in mind.
The hard truth is that naming rights are a simple revenue stream for sports teams that are trying to find new sources of income. At the top level of any major sport the wages that are paid even to a player of average talent are exorbitant so the extra income of a naming rights deal could potentially supply the income required to give the team in question a competitive edge over their rivals. We all want our team to be successful and understand that in modern football money talks. Those who have it win and those that don’t, well don’t but does it really matter.
The reality for fans is that the home ground of their own team will always be referred to by its original name amongst themselves, the name that all fans grew up hearing and associating with it. It is very hard to get fans to call a ground by any other name than the one they have always known but if the stadium is new then it will prove to be less of a challenge.
The Emirates Stadium at Arsenal is a case in point. None of the fans call the Emirates by any other name because it hasn’t had one. Trying to rename grounds that have a history, a place already cemented within their communities, their towns or their cities, is never going to be successful. Sure the media and signage may refer to the ground as the ‘Online Betting Shop 123 Stadium’ but the fans won’t call it by this name. Among themselves it will always be known by its traditional name, the one that roots it within its rightful place in the heart of the fans. You know where you are with an Elm Park or White Hart Lane but an Etihad or Fitness First is soulless and completely disconnected from the club who play there or the town or city in which it inhabits.
In the end I can accept that the financial benefits out-weigh the moral objections and if you think about how these things work it really has no effect on the regular fan. I will always refer to the ground where my team play by the name it has always had and everyone else can call it what they like. Our home ground is where miracles can happen, where the men we pay to watch can produce moments of magic that will live on in our memories long after the players involved have retired. It is their stage but it is our theatre of dreams!