Football FanCast columnist Chris Knowles wonders if teams should even consider renaming their stadia.
Goodison Park; Old Trafford; Ibrox…
Sound good, don’t they? These names conjure up history, passion, pride. They are a symbol of hope and excitement for thousands of football fans worldwide. But unfortunately even the name of a stadium is not immune to the commercial industry we know as modern day football.
Last week brought the news that Mike Ashley, the beleaguered Newcastle owner, has, for the immediate future, renamed the club’s ground sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park Stadium in a bid to showcase the retail company owned by the aforementioned entrepreneur.
Naturally, this has sparked debate not only amongst Geordies and other football fans, but even reached the lofty heights of discussion in the House of Commons as a Tyneside MP attempted to stop Ashley selling the rights.
It also emerged last week that new Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay is considering selling the naming rights to Stamford Bridge, with any possible deal being for a period of seven to 10 years. He did outline, however, that any deal would have to be with the “right partner” because retaining the ground’s heritage is “paramount”.
Samsung Bridge? I don’t think so.
Yet there is an argument which suggests that Gourlay and Ashley are doing the right thing by allowing further investment opportunities to be presented to football clubs in difficult economic times.
It is expected that the vast majority of big clubs across Europe will benefit from selling the naming rights in the next few years and, consequently, profit from expanding capacity and increasing revenue. But are these business-driven decisions being taken at the expense of the football club itself?
Sponsorship is rife in football; shirt sponsors, kit sponsors, individual endorsements to name a few. Do we really need to eat away at the distinctiveness of our clubs’ identities? Surely the only logical next step in this money-making episode is to change the name of the club to represent a flavour of the month sponsor.
Stadiums aren’t named so they can be found on the SatNav, nor should they be named to comply with commercial forces or owners’ insatiable tactics. Names are identities and represent the uniqueness of some of our most fantastic and historic football grounds.
Maybe I’m just being sentimental.