Naming rights and wrongs

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
Stamford Bridge could be renamed after a sponsor to boost revenue

Stamford Bridge could be renamed after a sponsor to boost revenue

When Newcastle United unveiled what St James’ Park was to be renamed until the end of the season, many thought that there had been a mix-up involving an email address.

Sadly for Newcastle fans, there had been no errors behind the scenes — their beloved stadium is now called: sportsdirect.com @ St James’ Park.

It is the latest development for which owner Mike Ashley is responsible, and once again it is a move unpopular with the club’s fans.

But it would appear that Ashley could have set a new trend after it emerged yesterday that Chelsea are considering a similar move.

Ron Gourlay, Chelsea’s new chief executive, revealed that the club are looking to sell naming rights to Stamford Bridge in a bid to increase revenue and prevent their rivals from gaining a “competitive advantage.”

The Blues are reportedly looking to seal a 10 to 15-year deal for the rights and could net up to £150 million, with Samsung and Etihad Airways both said to be interested in snapping up the rights.

Following the uproar of discontent from Newcastle fans, who are planning a protest ahead of Saturday’s match with Peterborough, Gourlay outlined that any plans to rename the stadium would include Stamford Bridge in the title.

“We understand this is a sensitive issue for our fans and that is why we would keep Stamford Bridge in any deal,” Gourlay said.

“We cannot sell any more tickets as we sell out virtually every match. We need to move the business forward to support the football side This is a potentially realistic way of doing that. Retaining the heritage of the stadium is paramount but we think that is achievable.”

Despite initial reluctance, one would expect Chelsea fans to be able to deal with the renaming knowing that it is creating a valuable source of revenue for the club that last year posted losses of £66m.

In Newcastle it is the fact that the name is only temporary, with Ashley looking to secure a long-term deal before the start of next season, that has incensed the St James’ Park faithful.

The news from both clubs has inevitably triggered comparisons with Arsenal’s branding of the north London club’s stadium — a deal which has earned the Gunners in excess of £100m including shirt sponsorship until 2021.

But Arsenal’s situation was notably different with the name assigned to a brand new and unnamed stadium, rather than the renaming of an historic arena.

The Guardian’s Jim White told the BBC: “If Arsenal had tried to change Highbury to the Emirates then people would have got very cheesed off. When you’ve got a new stadium you’ve got a blank canvas in a different way.”

So for the time being, it is difficult to envisage St James’ Park’s new name sticking with fans, which emphasises the need for Chelsea to be tactical when selecting an appropriate sponsor if they are indeed to rechristen their home ground.

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