What’s in a name?

The decisions of Newcastle United and Chelsea to sell stadium naming rights almost beggar belief.

First, there is plenty of research out there to show that for football in particular, naming rights deals only work for newly built stadia. Arsenal and Bolton could do it because their new stadia didn’t have a name. Middlesbrough couldn’t even when its stadium was new because it was unofficially named the Riverside before completion. The BT Cellnet Riverside deal, signed shortly afterwards, never worked and the deal was terminated early.

For existing stadia, the name will anger fans and be ignored by a considerable part of the media, and which sponsor wants to upset the fans it has being developing a relationship with? Look at how quickly Adidas, Newcastle’s technical sponsor, distanced itself from rumours that it was taking the naming rights to St James’ Park.

Mike Ashley, in particular, needs to have a long, close look at what he is doing. Newcastle fans are among the most passionate in football. To think that they will happily call their stadium the “sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park” is risible. But to then announce it as a warm-up to a new deal next year! To upset all of your fans once might be considered unfortunate…

Apart from anything else, any expert on sponsorship will tell you that naming rights deals need to be long-term. People don’t simply change the name they give to a place they hold dear at the drop of a hat (or two).

But what of the marketing rationale for a name change? An existing stadium and its name is part of a club’s heritage and as such part of its brand. For many fans it is the one constant as the players and management move on. To sell your heritage to the highest bidder for short-term gain is damaging in the long-run. To do so when research shows you that it won’t work is commercial madness.

I’d offer to eat the two dropped hats if an experienced global sponsor puts its name to St James’ Park next season. But given some of the bad decisions made by clubs and occasionally sponsors, I know I’d be reaching for the Rennies come next summer.

Simon Rines
Owner of International Marketing Reports Ltd Bristol

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