The Stirling Albion Supporters Trust Get It Wrong

The Stirling Albion Supporters Trust Get It Wrong

By on Jan 21, 2010 in Latest, Scottish Football | 14 comments

Since the start of the age of the commercialisation within football, supporters have been pretty tolerant of much of the “progress” that has been made. Sponsors names on shirts and grounds, kick-off times being switched to suit television audiences and matches being put onto pay-TV have all been tolerated when they benefitted no-one but those that stood to make a profit from it. There is, however, a line in the sand that seems beyond the pale in football in much of Britain (the Welsh Premier League seems to be an exception) comes with the naming of clubs themselves. This week, however, there has been a serious attempt to cross this line, and it came from an unexpected source.

Last year was not a particularly happy one for Stirling Albion of the Scottish League Division Two. On the pitch, they were relegated from the Scottish League First Division, whilst off it they were pursued by their local council over unpaid rates and rent at Forthbank Stadium and survived two winding up orders that were brought by HMRC over unpaid tax bills. The club is believed to be £1.5m in debt, a colossal sum of money for a club that plays its matches in front of average crowds of around 700. The club’s supporters trust launched an attempt to buy the club last year. Its first offer was refused but they plan to try again, and this time their plans involve selling the naming rights to the club.

Under plans that have already been seriously discussed with a well-known price comparison website, Stirling would change their name – and regular readers may wish to reach for a sick bag at this point – to Stirling Albion Meerkats FC for a period of five years, in return for £50,000 per year. Now, there is little doubt that £250,000 over five years would be a handy sum of money for a club like Stirling. However, the question needs to be asked of whether this complete loss of identity, this fundamental selling down the river of the very name of the club is worth anywhere near the frankly paltry sum of £50,000 per year. Llansantffraid of the Welsh Premier League were paid £250,000 to change their name to Total Network Solutions FC in 1996.

Finding something direct to correlate this amount of money with isn’t easy. Television advertising rates are at a rock bottom level at the moment – down 16% in 2009, with revenues from commercials down £175m since 2007. Prices are at their lowest rate since the 1980s. The average cost of advertising seems to be around £4.20 per 1000 viewers for a thirty second advertisement, although this varies according to the specific channel, the time that it is being broadcast, whether the commercial in question is being shown nationally or not and a host of other factors. However, this particular £50,000 per year would plant a seed of a reminder of the company in many people’s heads that isn’t available elsewhere. On websites, in newspapers and on the television, that little nudge would – assuming that the media were complicit in using the moniker – always be there. On top of that, the novelty of it all would create a wave of publicity for the sponsors – and all for less than £1,000 per week.

The trust is insistent that this deal would only last for five years, but there are no guarantees that this would be the case, and the fact that it is being countenanced in the first place indicates that if a further deal could be signed in five years’ time, then it would at least be considered. What difference, however, would it make to the club? If their current debt is £1.5m, they would need to keep a similar deal in place for thirty years in order for it to pay off their debt. This five year deal would – assuming that the club ran up no further debt, which is, of course, far from guaranteed – pay off a sixth of the total amount that they owed.

Scottish football does have a different system, however, which may be underscoring the announcement. English clubs that fail financially and fold can start at the bottom and build back up. In Scotland, there is no direct access to the Scottish Football League. If they have to drop into the junior leagues, they may never get back to where they are now. For all of this, though, it seems unlikely that the club wouldn’t be able to cut back elsewhere. If the club has been spending as heavily on wages as has been suggested elsewhere (and they are hardly struggling on the pitch – they are currently in second place in the Scottish Second Division), then these should be cut back.

It seems unlikely that such a move would be permitted by the Scottish Football Association, though, and there is precedent for it. In 1974, when works team Ferranti Thistle were allowed into the Scottish Football League, it was on condition that they changed their name to Meadowbank Thistle. Meanwhile, in England, in the early 1980s one of Jimmy Hill’s bright ideas for Coventry City was to change their name to Coventry Talbot in a sponsorship deal with the now-defunct car manufacturer but this plan was vetoed the Football League. Such precedent doesn’t apply to the naming rights for grounds, so comparisons with that are largely irrelevant.

Such a decision would rest with the supporters of the club even if the SFA were to allow it, and this seems unlikely for the forseeable future. It may be a different matter if such a tie-in could guarantee the long term future of the club but, considering the amount of money offered in this case, it seems unlikely that any such guarantee can be made and, once the name is gone, what else is there left to hawk to the highest bidder? This particular line in the sand hasn’t quite been crossed yet, but we’re edging closer and closer to it.

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    14 Comments

  1. would it be pedantic to say that “junior” is perhaps the wrong word to describe the lower leagues in Scotland? It has a very different meaning in terms of Scottish football- the East, South and Highland leagues are all referred to as “Senior”- the Beanos would most likely (were they to go bust) apply to join the East league.

    Their position is pretty perilous- they have no real assets, as after they sold their old ground years ago they moved to Forthbank, a stadium built for them but owned by the council. I hope they survive though- more because I’m Alloa fan, than despite. No-one really wants their local rivals to fail.

    Al

    January 22, 2010

  2. What am I missing? Did a bunch of meerkats get together and offer the club money? Is there business called simply Meerkats? Do they sell meerkats?

    Brenton

    January 22, 2010

  3. I believe meerkats are indigenous to the Stirling metropolitan area

    ejh

    January 22, 2010

  4. The Grumpy Old Man in me (default position) has me muttering ‘Hear Hear’ like an obscure back-bencher, and the academic in me has me agreeing with you on your analysis of the dire financial situation the club finds itself in (and the lack of overall impact such a sponsorship deal would have).

    But, a wee part of me is saying ‘Isn’t this all just a tad hypocritical of the SFL, organisers of the Irn-Bru leagues and the Co-operative Insurance Cup? Haven’t we long crossed the line in the sand in any case, objectionable though that is?’

    To me there are far worse sponsorship renaming cases in England. I find it immensely irritating (Grumpy Old Man again) to have to stop and think ‘now, what is the Zamaretto in real money?’ to give just one example.

    John Beech

    January 22, 2010

  5. I wish the FAW had the same rules as the SFA and FA. The advent of TNS not only killed-off a very well-run village club that have had to restart at the bottom of the Welsh pyramid but also “rescued” (took over and closed) the deeply-historical club Oswestry Town.

    And now we have the disgustingly named Technogroup Welshpool Town which as not benefitted the club one bit as they are being relegated at the end of the season.

    Thankfully those in charge of works team Airbus UK has seen sense and added the name of their village to their title: Broughton.

    In a football world of money and millionaires, can’t we at least keep one little thing sacred?

    Steve Thomas

    January 22, 2010

  6. I’m glad they were refused permission for this nonsense, mainly because I predicted that franchise would be the first professional “club” to change their name to a corporate sponsor (I’m not including the TNS and Airbus nonsense).

    Martin

    January 22, 2010

  7. I wonder how much good it would do the potential sponsors too. I love meerkats, I love the meerkat puppet adverts, I feel like I know personally all about Sergei’s worms trouble. But on reading the line that mentioned the word Meerkats being included in Stirling’s name, I felt a bit nauseous, a bit angry, a bit betrayed even. When I see the ad again, I won’t think of those mischievous meerkats getting up to scrapes, I’ll think of them as shameless opportunists, subverting the very identity of a region for a pittance.

    Still, at least it’s not that fat tenor.

    Gervillian Swike

    January 22, 2010

  8. No, really, what are you guys on about? I’m in Canada, and I really don’t understand the reference.

    Brenton

    January 22, 2010

  9. a) I’m not in favour of it or any such thing.

    b) If the choice is between them going under and them having a silly name, I’ll pick the silly one every single ti

    c) We don’t mind the Emirates, Reebok etc re: grounds. We can find our way around these things.

    RCM

    http://leftbackinthechangingroom.blogspot.com

    Rob Marrs

    January 22, 2010

  10. Brenton – the “Meerkats” thing is part of an advertising campaign for a price comparison website, almost impossible to avoid in the UK. It plays on the alleged similarity between “Meerkat” and “Market” with a puppet Meerkat called Alex. Such is the pervasiveness of the ads that pretty much any reference to the critters will have you chanting “compare the meerkat, dot com….” and muttering “simples” under your breath until, in best Hitchhiker’s Guide tradition, your own intestines rebel and strangle you….

    Albert Ross

    January 23, 2010

  11. Ah, thanks.

    That’s crass, but I’ll agree with the above: if it means the survival of the club, I’m sure most supporters would go for it. They might want the league to step in and say no, but I wonder if they themselves would turn away from the club for doing so.

    Brenton

    January 23, 2010

  12. Was the Llansantffraid/TNS payment of £250,000 paid in full in 1996?

    Tony

    January 23, 2010

  13. It’s a frankly desperate attempt to prise the club from the fingers of an owner who isn’t prepared to sell; a publicity stunt par-excellence…or so they think.

    The authorities are right to oppose this ‘move’. What’s especially crazy is that the defenders of an idea like this point the finger at the people they criticise for selling the game down the river and say ‘if they can do it (sponsored leagues etc), so can we’. Erm. Where do I start?

    Wibble Wobble

    January 24, 2010

  14. Are Red Bull interested in acquiring a Scottish team?

    Micky F

    January 29, 2010

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