Focus on stadium naming rights – part 1 – The Origins

Manchester City – Etihad Stadium

In the Premier League season of 2014/15 there will be six clubs with a commercially named stadium. This is more than ever before. Throughout the lower leagues this figure escalates to twenty-one clubs in total in England’s top five leagues.

This is including those with stadiums which are known by two names, one traditional, one commercial (often temporary deals) such as Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road; officially the Matchroom Stadium. In a sport ever more dominated by money, one in which many clubs without the unbelievable revenue that the Premiership offers, are too regularly going out of business it is no surprise that the lure of selling the naming rights to the stadium is becoming ever more commonplace.

This article investigates the history of such sponsorship in the UK. It also ponders the future, will this habit plateau or will a club with a traditionally named home ground be a rarity in a decade’s time? Stadium sponsorship remains worlds behind kit sponsorship but with the amounts offered it’s not infeasible to suggest it could soon catch up.

Premier League 2014/15 Sponsored Stadiums

  • Arsenal – Emirates Stadium
  • Hull City – KC Stadium
  • Leicester City – King Power Stadium
  • Manchester City – Etihad Stadium
  • Stoke City – Britannia Stadium
  • Swansea City – Liberty Stadium

This is just one more than five years ago in the 2009/10 season. However, this is in stark contrast to the 2002/03 season, the second Premiership campaign sponsored by Barclaycard, wherein the Reebok Stadium of Bolton Wanderers was the sole commercially named ground. (Note: Middlesborough’s Riverside Stadium was called the BT Cellnet Riverside until the end of the 2001/02 season).

In total the Premier League has been witness to games in fifty different stadiums since it began. Of these, including name changes such as Newcastle who switched to the Sports Direct Arena and then reverted to St.James Park, ten of these have had/ have commercially branded names.

BT Cellnet Riverside Stadium

It was, of all sides, Huddersfield Town who were the first to be housed in a commercially branded stadium in the UK. This was the Grant McAlpine Stadium, built and opened in 1994. Contractually the name of the construction contractor was to be part of the name for ten years. More recently, since Heineken acquired the rights in 2012, it is now known as the John Smiths Stadium.

Middlesborough followed suit just a year later. They’d needed a new home to replace Ayresome Park and in 1995, they got one. Built in just thirty-two weeks the BT Cellnet Riverside Stadium kick started the stadium naming rights war in the UK. In what was perhaps marketing genius, as a way to sugarcoat the commercialisation of the name, the Riverside part had at least been picked by the fans themselves.

Next up was Bolton, who embraced the replacement of Burnden Park with the much improved Reebok Stadium in 1997. This move, though initially unpopular, has now been accepted by and large by fans seemingly owing much to Reebok’s local connection with Bolton. Times are a changing though and due to a new agreement the Reebook now goes by the name the Macron Stadium.

Stoke moved into their new home; the Britannia Stadium, in 1997, owing to a necessary £1m investment (and initial ten year sponsorship deal) by the Britannia Building Society. This, like many others is a typical example of one which could not have been built without said sponsorship arrangement.

It was not until a few years later though that the big boys cottoned onto this potential goldmine. The Arsenal board’s decision to move out of their historic Highbury home into the glistening new Emirates Stadium in 2006 was met with little opposition by fans, who seemingly understood it was a matter of ambition for the club to continue to compete at the top.

Manchester City moved out of Maine Road and into the City of Manchester stadium in 2003. In July 2011 this was renamed the Etihad Stadium as part of a new ten year agreement between the club and Etihad Airways.

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