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OPINION: “Despite financial rewards, now isn’t the time to rename Sunderland’s Stadium of Light”

“The new Sunderland owners are investigating avenues to sell the naming rights of the Stadium of Light. However, in a message to Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, I implore that it be kept the same” writes James Nickels.

The SoL flanked by Bob Stokoe’s statue, let’s keep atleast a few parts sanctified away from the perils of modern football
Sunderland AFC

Re-branding any cherished part of a club is always tricky business; be it the team colours (Cardiff), club badge (Manchester City), stadium name (Newcastle United) or whatever else. Often, change is met with apprehension at best and downright animosity at worst.

These three aforementioned clubs have all underwent re-naming or re-branding changes in recent years, to differing forms of success.

The Bluebirds’ owner Vincent Tan changed the club colours from their famous blue to his ‘lucky colour’ red before then changing a portion of the seats at the Cardiff City Stadium to red. However, fan anger was meteoric - a few friends of mine even tore up their season ticket and have not returned since due to Tan still owning the club. The Malaysian owner was forced to revert the club colours back to blue - appeasing the fans - yet that red section remains.

As we all are too aware Mike Ashley changed the name of St James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena to widespread fume among Newcastle fans, and most recently, Manchester City re-branded the club, opting for a simplified and more modern badge dawning the Pep Guardiola era - but that was handled very effectively and has largely been met with optimism and approval from City fans.

Stadium names are often spiritual and symbolic to football fans. Or at least, until the modern era. Roughly 40% of the 92 professional club’s in the Football and Premier League have sold the naming rights of their stadium, so it is far from a common occurrence. Most consternation from sponsored stadium names emanates from already existing stadia, as new builds immediately sold off usually hold little place in the hearts and minds of football fans the world over.

Cardiff’s two-tone home stand, sporadically used and hated by their fans.

We are in a funny middle ground - I’m almost sure every Sunderland fan would reject renaming the eponymous Roker Park, yet “Stadium of Light” doesn’t really resonate with the area and was a manufactured/chosen name in the first place. Maybe if the success of the Reid era had been prolonged this would be different, but now a lot of fans equate the SoL with the Premier League and therefore, by in large, disappointment on the pitch.

The SoL is still ours, and I personally do still hold it sacred, but 100 years of history naturally means that Roker Park still holds a special place in our hearts today, even 21 years after it was demolished.

Say, theoretically, the club does go ahead with a name change and joins 41 other English professional league clubs in doing so. There are issues, of course - what if the sponsorship name is just plain terrible (see the Sports Direct Arena), or if it changes numerous names? In the case of the latter, Bolton fans still call their now named Macron Stadium the Reebok.

Financially the deal has to be very profitable - however, according to excellent research by football financiers such as the Swiss Ramble and Price of Football, it has been discovered only really the Premier League elite receive truly game-changing funds as a result. Most lower-level Prem and Championship sides receive about £300,000 on average. Now I know we aren’t exactly the regular League One club and have massive potential, but just imagine we will garner as a current third tier side?

In my last article, I discussed the revamp of the stadium, and how it is the symbol and a physical metaphor for the soul of the club being rediscovered and reignited. Naturally, I feel like re-naming the Stadium of Light at this stage may prove too much of both a backwards step and a huge contradiction to the work already being carried out by the club and fans together.

One of the most glorious images in football, the SoL with her spotlights. Bring these back 1000 times over renaming it.

Stewart Donald has already essentially rubbished rumours that a change of badge is on the way - and although I somewhat ironically support this (if it would be changed to a more modern, simpler and more marketable version of the old ship design), I hope he follows suit with the re-naming of the stadium.

The stands should be re-named, but in honour of legends past and those who genuinely transformed the club. But I feel like something like the UK Asbestos Specialists Stadium of Light flies in the face of the tributes in re-naming stands to the Raich Carter Stand or Bob Murray Stand etc (all examples are purely rhetorical used for effect).

The Stadium of Light may not be central to the soul of the club, but for now let’s not make any changes to the make-up of the club when momentum is truly steamrolling in the right way for the first time since Keano and Quinny’s magic carpet ride.

Mayhaps on day in the future, where we have reached the point where selling the rights will make a genuine and substantial change to the club's finances - i.e. once we’re back in the Premier League. Although I prefer it stayed something close to our hearts, if it must be done, I will only support a deal which is truly financially benefiting to the club, otherwise keep it as the SoL.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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