Are naming rights getting out of hand? 31st January, 2013

Naming rights aren’t a modern introduction to the world of sport, brought in as an additional revenue stream over the past twenty years to help pay the inflated wages of our beloved superstars.  In fact, stadiums named after an associated corporation or sponsor far precede the internationally broadcast versions of basketball, football, rugby and baseball that we know and watch today.

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, was named after its owner’s realty company all the way back in 1912. Perhaps more commonly known, William Wrigley, founder of the chewing gum company and owner of the Chicago Cubs, aptly named his club’s stadium Wrigley Field in 1926. Since then hundreds of stadiums have followed the naming rights model, from the Veritas Arena in Finland to the De Beers Diamond Oval in South Africa to UK properties as the Etihad and the Reebok Stadium.

Yet despite this illustrious history, a couple of recent stories surrounding potential name changes to Wembley Stadium and Ibrox, two of the most revered institutions in British football, have made me question – have naming rights gone too far?

Naming rights deals are a fantastic marketing medium, but they have to be implemented in the right way, on a suitable property, for them to be perceived as a success.  In my eyes, there are five essential factors for any brand considering a naming rights deal:

1. Longevity: Sponsorship is all about developing and changing perceptions and simply renaming a stadium for four years is not going to make anyone think differently about a brand.

Football grounds are considered ‘home’ for millions of fans worldwide, a feeling developed over years of shared memories with fellow supporters  – as an Arsenal fan it took me a long time to call The Emirates home, but as the stadium has been so-called for so many years the name now rolls of the tongue as naturally as Highbury ever did.

2.  Sponsor integration: For all the criticism they receive, media impressions are obviously still a huge factor in any naming rights deal. However, it is now essential for a brand to develop a relationship with fans both at the ground and online on an emotional level more than before to achieve true value on a naming rights deal. Whether that be through priority on concert tickets (O2), discounted flights for members (Emirates) or even free orange juice (Minute Maid Park), the sponsor is engaging with the potential customers it spent so much money to reach.

3. Emotional attachment to the stadium: One of the reasons Arsenal fans were more inclined to give ‘The Emirates’ a chance was the fact that they were moving to a brand new stadium.  I would have been far more sceptical, and potentially opposed, to any corporate sponsor coming in and renaming Highbury.  As Wonga were well aware, any plans they had of naming Newcastle F.C’s stadium to something suitably daft (Wonga Arena) would have been met with derision from the club’s supporters and they (cleverly) reinstated St James’ Park as the stadium’s official name.

4. The Name: Too long and the fans will simply shorten it (Friend’s Provident St Mary’s to St Mary’s) or too corporate and the fans will revert to a more familiar name (Capital One Field to Byrd Stadium)

5. The Investment: Sports fans (myself included) are by and large fickle creatures.  If they believe that the money invested by sponsors is helping the club pay wages and higher transfer fees, then they are far more likely to accept the brand as part of the club.

Given the five factors listed above, I think any naming rights deal of Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium would be greeted with a resigned acceptance from its fans.  Ibrox obviously has a long and cherished history, but if a well-aligned naming-rights sponsor comes in and invests money that could potentially save the club from further financial strain, then I don’t think there will be too many dissenters.

In contrast, I can’t see a proposed partner (Everything Everywhere) and Wembley fulfilling any more than 3 and 5 of the above and as such can’t see it working particularly well. It is only suggested that it will be Wembley ‘in association with EE’ anyway, which media and fans alike will inevitably shun. Lastly and  in this instance most importantly, Wembley, more than any stadium in the world, evokes memories and emotions of a by-gone era that many people still cherish. As such any potential naming rights partner will face far more opposition to get past than on a regular stadium.

I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Has sport sponsorship finally come of age? 20th December, 2012

Sport is the best known platform for sponsorship, and sadly often the least inventive –money exchanged for logo awareness on kits, stadia and perimeter boards. However, the recent £150 million sponsorship deal between Emirates and Arsenal F.C. is a great example of a shift from traditional sponsorship to a relationship where shared resources drive mutual benefits – what all sponsorship should be aiming for. Is this creation of a genuine partnership a one-off or might we be seeing a wider move in this direction across sport?

Arsenal & Fly Emirates

Arsenal’s agreement to share its advanced CRM system with the Dubai based airline was integral to the sponsorship deal going ahead. Head of Communications at Emirates Boutros Boutros outlined the importance of this saying:

‘Data on customers is important to us… detailed data on customers allows us to work out where we spend our ad budgets and who we target as well as what markets we focus on.’

While Emirates did purchase kit and stadium rights the CRM data deal constructed a two way channel of exchange that benefits both parties. This new approach to sponsorship is by no means exclusive to Arsenal; other Premier League clubs have also moved towards this model .

Manchester City/EA Sports – Finding a fit

Since its takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group Manchester City has led the football world in creating meaningful partnerships through sponsorship – the creation of a Head of Partnerships role at the club in 2009 signalling this. Luis Vicente – the man holding this role – outlines the clubs belief:

‘(…)for us it is not about where you place the logo of your partner. It is not about the size of the financial commitment with us. It is about how we can find a fit.’

A great example of the club finding a fit is its partnership with EA sports, a relationship so integrated the gaming company employs two people solely to produce content for the club. The partnership has led to permanent gaming installations put inside the Etihad for fans, the team’s kit being launched virtually by EA and exclusive and in depth club content for City fans. In the last few days the club has extended this through the creation of branded corporate boxes and non-matchday events.

Formula 1

It is not just football within the world of sport that has moved in this way. The deal struck between Infiniti cars and the leading F1 team Red Bull Racing mentioned by Ben Fuchs is another example. As part of the deal Infiniti are assisting the F1 team in the development of its Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), along with the team using Infiniti’s Scratch Heal paint for aerodynamic purposes. In return Red Bull is helping Infiniti in the creation of a new High Performance road car to follow the Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel. Chelsea FC’s unconventional partnership with the F1 team Sauber is another example. While output has been minimal so far the two are promising to embark on the next stage of their partnership very soon.


As the value of sponsorship deals continues to grow within sport the expectation from brands will only increase that sponsorship partnerships will become exactly that, partnerships. Luis Vicente highlights this as something that sport should embrace, saying:

‘Sponsorship in its traditional form is dead. You have to come up with something that is an embedded, engaging experience with your partners.’

This desire to create an engaging experience through a genuine partnership is a model that is becoming increasingly popular, suggesting sport as a platform for sponsorship is finally coming of age.