Much has been made of late as to the pro's and con's of club's selling the naming rights to their ground. In some instances it seems to make perfect sense, new stadia such as the Emirates for example, however as Mike Ashley fund out up the road some fans do not take kindly to such change.
Today Karl Jones and myself lock horns as we debate whether or not it would be a good thing for SAFC as we present our cases...
David Boyle: The Case AGAINST Naming Rights
The naming of football stadia up and down the British Isles is becoming an ever more popular and seemingly acceptable method by which a football club can generate that all important additional income. However is it all it is cracked up to be? Whilst I personally hold absolutely no affiliation to the, quite frankly, ridiculous name that Sir Bob Murray christened our club's new home with back in 1997, there will undoubtedly be some that do hold some attachment to the moniker. We have already seen, especially those that live local to the North East, the outcry that met Mike Ashley's decision to tear away a piece of their history, tippex out the name St. James Park and basicallycomplete his plan to turn the monstrous ground into one big advert for his budget sports shop.
Much mirth was enjoyed on Wearside as the business decision was met with expected and justified fury from the Geordie Nation. However once the paint had dried on the bedsheets, and they had returned their footwear to their feet, the Magpie protestors soon realised that no matter what the corporate line was, no-one, apart from mischievous Mackems, would call the ground anything but St. James' Park, not the fans, not the media and not the press.
You have to wonder if Ashley's plan to rename St. James' as an exercise to generate interest from other investors to have their own name attached to the stadium has now backfired given the fact that no-one refers to the ground as anything other than St. James Park. Hardly an attractive proposition for potential investors as it has now
been proven a new name wont stick and this won't have gone un-noticed by investors that previously may have been in the market to splash the cash to name other stadia.
Of course it is a different story when the naming rights are agreed with regards to a brand spanking new stadium such as the Emirates for example, this is a chance for a company to become a part of that club's history seamlessly rather than tackily tagged on many years down the line, a much more attractive proposition for large investment.
Additionally is the investment worth it for the company involved? Granted these examples come from the US but just two years after purchasing the naming rights for the Met's "ball park", Citigroup required a $300 Billion bailout. The sports clothing division of Fruit of the Loom bought the rights to name the Miami Dolphin's Ground, Pro Player Stadium, in 1996 before filing for bankruptcy protection in 1999 and eventually liquidation in 2001. Whilst maybe not necessarily directly responsible for the companies' struggles, the millions and millions they paid out each year for these sponsorship deals can't have helped their plight. The return of investment of such naming deals seems negligible and similar scenarios as above could easily become the norm if the naming right deals become as popular here in the UK, which may deter many organisations from investing the big sums of money that were thrown around in the US here in the UK.
I will concede that the potential for additional income would be very welcome on Wearside. However what kind of sums are we talking and where do we draw the line? Would we gladly take a couple of million to see the lads ply they trade at Pukka Pie Park? Having had a season ticket for many a year now I cant help but have noticed that
established and respected companies/organisations are hardly knocking down the gates outside the Stadium of Light to have their logo emblazoned on the hoardings around the pitch, in fact there are often many empty spots, often taken up by hastily added reminders of the clubs website. Like it or not, are Sunderland really an attractive
enough proposition to attract the interest of an company who's name wouldn't be a complete embarrassment?
Karl Jones: The Case FOR Naming Rights
Due to the relatively new stadium Sunderland possesses, it is not in the position of Manchester United, or even neighbours Newcastle United, whereby selling the naming rights would polarise its fan base. Financial Fair Play dictates that Ellis Short cannot openly go throwing his own money at the club anymore, so SAFC have to continue to be savvy when it comes to commercial income. The stadium, which is less than 20 years old, has little emotional connection to many fans and as previous incumbents Niall Quinn and Steve Walton have suggested, if the money was right a deal should be done.
We are all-too-aware of how difficult it is to attract players when the bright lights of London or Manchester are flashing in the periphery, and so the club needs to be innovative both off the field and in the transfer market. Generating further income in this manner, whether it be this year or in the near future, has to be a serious consideration if the club are to maintain the steady progress Short requires. Gone are the days of ‘war chests' for the manager in the summer - unless Sunderland can generate the money for itself.
Considering the switch to Adidas, the ‘most lucrative sponsorship deal in the club's history' in Invest in Africa, and a new betting partner all being announced this off-season, the logical ‘next step' commercially would be finding a partner to invest in the stadium's naming rights; further enabling SAFC to be FFP compatible.
Speaking as a fan, I like the current name, but it is not as iconic as Roker Park nor will it ever be. As a result it makes little sense, and frankly, Short and his Board of Directors would not be doing their best by the club, to ignore such a potentially lucrative commercial possibility. Much of the above sounds like it should be nowhere near a football pitch, but, unfortunately, this be the modern game. If Sunderland is to further establish itself as a Premier League club then it has to build on the good work that has been undertaken by Short, David Miliband and Quinn before them. Standing still off the field can be just as dangerous as doing so on it, and so whether it is a case of our home becoming the ‘Stadium of Light powered by Tullow Oil' or something completely different, that is what needs to be done if we are to continue improving on the pitch - barring the discovery of a dozen James McClean's at James McClean prices.
Both Short and Martin O'Neill have been rumoured to have said that European nights at the SoL is the dream, but should that dream be realised then I suspect a new name will don a new era at Sunderland's home.
So which side of the fence do you sit on, for selling the naming rights to the Stadium Of Light or against it? Vote in our poll below, and leave a comment if you feel so inclined!