The Name Game

By on Jan 9, 2009 in Latest, Non-League, Opinion | 10 comments

In July 2008, buoyed by their promotion into the Football League, Aldershot Town announced a new sponsorship deal. From the start of this season, EBB Paper would be the clubs new sponsors, and would have their name emblazoned across The Shots’ shirts. More importantly than this, EBB also signed a naming rights deal from Aldershot’s venerable old stadium, The Recreation Ground. From July 2008, The Recreation Ground would now be known as The EBB Stadium At The Recreation Ground”. Aldershot Town became, in one fell swoop, the club with the most mangled name in English football.

We have, over the last three decades or so, proved ourselves to be remarkably reslilient to the dubious delights of sponsorship. Kettering Town started the ball rolling in the mid-1970s with Derek Dougan’s almost quaint argument with the Football Association. Arguments over what was and wasn’t allowed continued until well into the 1980s, but we all now accept that our clubs shirts should be daubed with the logos of some company or other (except, of course, you support FC United of Manchester United, Barcelona – and they now carry the name of a charity) – or West Bromwich Albion). It’s part of life. It brings in revenue which, although it isn’t nearly as important as it was two decades or so ago, still makes a considerable difference to the financial wellbeing of our clubs. You can argue against it for aesthetic or even moral reasons, but few would argue that it’s going to go away.

Stadium naming rights are an altogether different matter. They are largely actively opposed in this country, with most people still choosing quite consciously not to use the sponsors’ name. In the case of newly-built grounds, we know no different. Stoke City have played at The Britannia Stadium for as long as it has been there, as have Bolton Wanderers at The Reebok Stadium. Even at the very highest level, as at Arsenal, most arguments about the club’s heritage went out of the window as soon as The Emirates Group waggled a massive bag of used £50 notes at them. As you move down the football food chain, however, the names (and, indeed, the value) of stadium naming rights become more obscure. Did you know, for example, that Cambridge United now play at The Trade Recruitment Stadium rather than The Abbey Stadium, or that Boston United now play at The Staffsmart Stadium rather than at York Street? Probably not, and herein lies the inner contradiction of doing this at a lower level.

Consider the reasoning behind a stadium naming rights deal from the point of view of the sponsors. For, say, Cambridge United, the sponsors want the exposure of having their name associated with a club’s stadium. Locally, they’ll get the exposure, but probably not the exposure that they want. Supporters will usually continue to use the old name and may even start to resent the company that has attached its name to the place that they consider to be their second home. Non-league ground names won’t receive much national exposure, and where a non-league ground’s name slips into the broader consciousness, it will more often that not be because it is unusual, as with Lewes’ The Dripping Pan or Clapton FC’s Spotted Dog Ground. Sometimes, the name will be so ridiculous that it gains a wider audience because it is simply unforgettably bad. Step forward York City who now play at KitKat Crescent rather than Bootham Crescent or Witton Albion, who famously played at The Bargain Booze Stadium for some years.

The last bastion of decency in English football seems to be with selling the rights to a club’s name. The only company names in English football club names are Cammell Laird and Vauxhall Motors, who are both former works’ teams. In Wales, of course, they’re less bothered about such concerns. Jeff Stelling can no longer say “They be dancing in the streets of Total Network Solutions”, because that company pulled out from Llansantfraid, and TNS now stands for “The New Saints”, but Airbus UK Broughton, Gap Connah’s Quay (not the clothing chain) and NEWI Cefn Druids. We can keep our fingers crossed that this situation in England will continue, but it would be unsurprising to see clubs start to do it. Look on the bright side, though – remember when there was talk of dividing matches up into four quarters and making the goals bigger? Sometimes we should be grateful for the fact that football hasn’t, in some respects, modernised quite as much as it could have done.

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    10 Comments

  1. It’s not for lack of trying – the football league have refused one club’s request to include a sponsor’s name in the club’s official registered team name; this was about 5 or 6 years ago.

    Dave

    January 9, 2009

  2. “The only company names in English football club names are Cammell Laird and Vauxhall Motors”

    Plus Sunderland Nissan FC of the Northern League of course.

    Simon Cope

    January 9, 2009

  3. In fairness to Airbus UK, aren’t they also a former work’s team? They certainly play on the Airbus factory site. Think they’ve always changed name in line with the company too, having formerly been de Havillands, Hawker Siddley, British Aerospace and Bae Systems over time.

    I did go there once, about four years ago – http://dubsteps.blogspot.com/2005/04/airbus-uk-0-bangor-city-0.html – and certainly the manner of the home fans conversations suggested there was a definite link.

    Certainly agree with the general point but cash generation in the Welsh Premier must be quite difficult at the best of times – at least WPL sides have the selling point that companies buying into a club name get advertised in the classified results on telly and radio across Britain each week.

    Like you say though lower league sides selling their stadium names seems counter productive to the company involved. On Havant & ‘Ville’s website, the corporate section highlights that we would sell naming rights if a suitable bid came in, but certainly if that were to happen, absolutely nobody, apart from the media (naturally, that would be mainly local), would refer to it as anything other than West Leigh Park.

    Also it’s the transience of it, Dover Athletic’s ground was the Hoverspeed Stadium then the SeaFrance to meet the needs of the sponsor. At least at present it incorporates the original name back in, being the Perry’s Crabble Stadium but even that sounds too grandious. The Crabble Ground suited it perfectly, and when Andy Hessenthaler brings them back up to Conference South next season, I am very much looking forward to going back there again.

    That’s assuming my mob don’t pass them en route via the horror of relegation of course.

    skif

    January 9, 2009

  4. I see your Bargain Booze Stadium and raise you with Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Home of the MLS team Colorado Rapids).
    All this sllyness with the naming I think comes from and started with the NFL.
    Google for the names of some of the stadiums that the Armored Wankball teams play in.

    It spread like a disease now and if you go and see a concert you might be watching Nine Inch Nails at the Dunkin Donut Center.
    - More here

    Webbie @ Football and Music

    January 9, 2009

  5. What about BAT Sports?

    Jertzee

    January 9, 2009

  6. What about West Ham United? Surely some kind of advertising for pork products.

    More seriously I would say it is utterly true that at the local level sponsors breed resentment as well as recognition and to be honest when dealing with football from a branding point of view the number of conflicting messages that come at the fan are insane. Multiple lagers are advertised in the same space, the same is true restaurants, of leisure activities in general. Trying to get your message to stand out in the football market place is almost impossible. Trying to actually align a product with an entity is even harder.

    Look at Liverpool with Carlsberg on the shirt playing in a league when it was sponsored by Carling. If I am trying to advertise my product I simply don’t want that level of conflict.

    Which is why I would suspect in years to come clubs will start trying to sell as close to full packages as possible. One brand on everything and as few competing messages as possible.

    Michael Wood

    January 9, 2009

  7. It’s not that long ago that Karren Brady was saying “yes, of course I’d rename Birmingham City after a sponsor if they gave us enough cash”. She and her ilk would clearly all jump at the chance of the ultimate sell-out if they thought they could get away with it. One likes to think there’d be an almighty barney if they ever tried it. But the image is still fresh of Manchester City fans arsing about in Arab headgear, so who knows?

    Hypothetically, I think it’s the one thing that would make me stop supporting my club, because it wouldn’t be my club any more, by definition.

    Pete

    January 9, 2009

  8. The whole stadium naming thing is, of course, much more prevalent in the huge business, franchised world of American sport. For some incomprehensible reason, I love Baseball and have followed the fortunes of the San Francisco Giants for many years.

    Since their new stadium opened in 2000, it has had three different names due branding changes and mergers of the sponsor company (Pacific Bell, SBC, then AT&T). Fans always referred to the old stadium by the original name of Candlestick Park long after the naming rights were sold to a succession of different companies, but weirdly fans fondly still refer to the original corporate name of the new park.

    Mystery_Bob

    January 10, 2009

  9. There are a couple of other lower league teams in England with sponsors names: Cadbury Athletic, Rolls Royce Leisure and Rowntree Macintosh

    So far 20 of the 92 Football League grounds have sponsors names with Cardiff and Grimsby’s new stadiums due to add to that total.

    It is difficult to keep track of the changes with so many teams but I have a list of 27 current non-league teams with sponsored grounds a couple of which are listed above. Apart from York City – Kitkat Crescent my other favourites are AFC Wimbledon – Cherry Red Records Fans’ Stadium and Witney United – Polythene UK Stadium

    In researching the naming rights I have found that many people stick to the old unsponsored names as a comfort and to prove the longevity of their support, some are confused as to what to call the ground when it does change and often with non league teams the internet is slow to keep track with changes – even Kidgrove Athletic haven’t updated their own website to their recent change!

    It could be worse, almost all US stadiums have naming rights and apart from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Colorado Rapids, soccer) and the Gaylord Entertainment Center now the Sommet Center in Nashville there are others;
    Dunkin Donuts Center, Rhode Island
    Fifth Third Ballpark, Michigan
    Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Kentucky
    Pepsi Coliseum, Indianapolis
    Pizza Hut Park, Dallas
    Tim’s Toyota Center Stadium, Arizona
    Salt Lake City stadium was renamed Energy Solutions Arena after a company that deals in nuclear waste disposal, Delta Center. A formal protest was held. Bloggers have been calling it the “Radium Stadium”, with one TV station inviting alternate names that included “Tox Box”, “The Fallout Shelter”, “Radiation Station,” and “HazMat Center”.
    And not forgetting David Beckham’s own Home Depot Center, Los Angeles Galaxy

    And Young Boys Bern play at the Wankdorf Arena which led to a wonderful ESPN headline ‘Young Boys Wankdorf erection relief’

    AlbanScot

    January 28, 2009

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