Why Stadium Names in English Football Should Never Change
Businesses are always looking to expand, to deepen their pockets and fill them accordingly. One of the methods these large corporations, and some economically sound businessmen, have used to grow their international brand is the ownership of sporting franchises. Few of these ownership groups invest in teams in the hopes of turning a significant profit – at least not profit that comes directly from the team itself. In fact for many owners of sports organizations these investments put them into serious debt. This debt forces many to sell the franchises in which they originally invested. That is the quick and easy option, but for many ownership groups they have given up too much or have to much support for the club in order to just sell the franchise, and so they turn to alternative methods to try to turn debt into profit.
A very good example of a league with plenty of clubs in poor economic state may also be the biggest sporting league in the world, the English Premier League. An investigation published in the highly acclaimed football novel, Soccernomics, demonstrates that very few teams in the Premier League actually make a profit despite astronomical revenues. In fact the only major club in the EPL that makes any sort of significant profit annually is Arsenal. What price have the Gunners paid for their profit margin? Trophies. Turning an actual profit on a Premier League club requires abstinence from the auction for the top players in the game. This has cost the club several of its top players, and most likely a few trophies. However, Arsenal have avoided the fate that the league’s two most successful clubs have realized. In their quest to continue their traditional dominance, with plenty of poor financial management along the way, Manchester United and Liverpool have both accrued significant financial debt.
The question then becomes how do they get out of this seemingly insurmountable debt? One of the methods modern football owners have adapted is kit sponsorships. The once sacred kits of the most storied clubs in the history of football are now emblazoned with logos of the company willing to pay the most cash. These uniform sponsorships are always changing and force supporters to constantly buy new kits if they want the “official” uniform of the club they support. Obviously, however, this has not been enough. Football management may have discovered a new way to make money off sponsorships, this method even more offensive to history then the last. It isn’t an unheard of phenomenon in other sports; the NHL for example has seen many changes of this sort, possibly the most notable being the change of the Montreal Canadiens’ home ice from the world famous Forum, to the Bell Centre (originally Molson). Furthermore, baseball has also seen this change. The once famous Skydome is now known as the Rogers Centre.
With stadium naming rights now seen as a means for increasing revenue, the classic venues in English Football history may soon become no more – at least in terms of name. Arsenal abandoned the historic Highbury Stadium in favor of a bigger and more economically sensible Emirates stadium. They are not the only ones. City of Manchester Stadium, the sensibly named home of Manchester City, has since been rebranded the Eithad Stadium after the Airplane company from the United Arab Emirates. The Bolton Wanderers converted Burden Park to Reebok Stadium in 1997 after the old park became inadequate and required renovations. If you even mutter the words “Sports Direct Arena” around Newcastle supporters you will get some dirty looks. They much prefer the stadium by the original name, St. James’ Park, which it has been called since the 1800s.
It seems that the next major stadium in English football that could be undergoing a name change is one of the most storied in the rich English club football history. That would be the historic grounds of England’s second most successful club, Liverpool, and their stadium, Anfield. The Reds have been one of the clubs feeling the worst economic strain and it has effected their results. The club slipped to the 8th position this past season for only the second time in Premier League history. During this time the club has changed management groups and George Gillet and Tom Hicks, the former owners, have been replaced by Fenway Sports Group, a famous American sports ownership group. Fenway has proven once again why the British public have general distrust with American owners in the EPL. While they have not yet set the plan in action, they have proposed a sponsorship deal for Anfield.
The name of the game in any entertainment industry, which of course football is a part of, is to make as much money as possible. When things are not going well and teams are in negative figures like Liverpool are, measures have to be taken to ensure that the club gets back on proper financial footing at some point before they end up like the Glasgow Rangers, demoted to the League Championship, or worse.
As a North American sports fan it is already difficult to accept having corporate logos on uniforms – North American jerseys are sacred. No NFL, NHL, or MLB team will ever have any corporate branding, other then their league and the uniform maker, on their uniforms in the foreseeable future. However in terms of stadiums (or rinks or auditoriums) sponsorship is very common. Increasingly few major sports stadiums do not go by a name that is not that of a corporation.
That being said, international football is different. Football stadiums have been around far longer then their North American counterparts. Many of these grounds are essentially heritage sites and represent years of British culture. Changing Anfield or Old Trafford to (insert company name here) Stadium is insulting to the years of rich history. It also happens to be a surefire way to turn local support against you. Newcastle supporters were incredibly enraged when St. James Park became Sporting Direct Arena and it is a title completely rejected by supporters and even some of the club’s media coverage.
The Fenway Sports Group have made some popular moves since taking over the club including hiring club legend Kenny Dalglish as manager, a move that certainly didn’t pan out. However, if they plan on any sort of respect from Liverpool supporters in the future, selling name sponsorship of Anfield is a horrible idea. This goes for all other foreign and domestic ownership groups looking at this option as well.
The name of football stadiums are sacred – keep them that way.